Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Return of a Classic?

*****IMPORTANT UPDATE***** Alas, the reissued Vivitar 285HV is a Vivitar in name only. (They have also morphed into the "Cactus KF36". Same flash.) This article, originally written in 2007, has been updated to reflect that the reissued version has turned out to be famously unreliable. Such a shame. PLEASE read the appended sections below for more info.
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To say that the Vivitar 283 and 285 flashes were regarded as workhorses would be rather like calling the VW bug just another popular small car in the 70's.

Consider this little factoid:

Vivitar introduced the 283 in 1972. By 1976, they had already produced their 3,000,000th unit. It's actually a ceremonial flash, made of gold, and it sits in the office of Jim Wellington, who is a Big Cheese at the company.

Jim has been with Vivitar since portable flash was a small pile of magnesium powder. Okay, maybe not quite that long, but Jim has been around the block a few times.

I spoke with Jim last week to get the skinny on the reintroduction of the 285HV. The 285HV is basically a pimped-out 283 that also offers a zoom head and full manual control - just the way we like it. 285HV's are also safe for your digicam, with a ~6v trigger voltage.

PLEASE NOTE that older 285's which are NOT designated as "HV" are NOT voltage safe and can fry your digital baby. Be warned.

The Vivitar 285HV, and its less-versatile sibling, the 283, have been a staple of off-camera lighting for more than a generation. But newer model flashes have gotten more computerized, with TTL functions and wireless IR capability. But they have also gotten price tags to match, heading north of $300 each.

Which is why last year when I started the site, I recommended scrounging for old Nikon SB's. They offer reliable, (and variable) manual flash with a PC jack without the $300 price tag. And at the time of my writing, you could snag them for less than $50.

Alas, the notion of off-camera manual flash gained a tad in popularity over the last year. Those same flashes now regularly go well north of USD $100 - if you can find them. As a side note, I recently picked up a couple of used SB-26's on eBay and you chowderheads bid me past the three-digit mark. Serves me right, I guess.

But now, Vivitar has also noticed the resurgence in off-camera manual flash and has reintroduced the classic workhorse Vivitar 285HV. Actually, some company you never heard of bought the rights to this name from Vivitar and started reproducing the flash. Badly.


BOTTOM LINE: Don't Buy This Flash

I hate to see this -- a company buying the name of a formerly great piece of gear, and then cranking out poor quality versions on the cheap. That's why you can now get a flash that looks just like a V285, but is also labeled a "Cactus" flash.

They are total crap. Don't let the reputation fool you. And sadly, when buying used it is hard to tell whether you are being offered the newer crap version, the mid-aged good version which has a safe sync voltage, or an older version which can kill our camera with very high sync voltages.

Fortunately, there are very good alternatives. Used Nikon flashes (SB-24, -25, -26 and -80 in particular) are great value models from which to choose. Unlike the new crap versions of the once-venerable 285's, they are well made.
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But there are great new alternatives, too. Deserving special consideration is the LumoPro LP160 (much more info here) which has full manual control, a killer slaves and syncs four different ways. (Hot shoe, slave, standard PC and miniphone jacks.)

Plus, it has an unheard of two-year warranty. So unlike the new 285/KF36, there is little to no risk involved.

In short: Please, PLEASE do not be fooled by the great reputation of the Vivitar name. Many, many people made this mistake when the flash was first reintroduced in 2007. Don't get taken.

Sadly, until we found out the the new 285 was in fact a dysfunctional sheep in wolf's clothing, I was responsible for introducing many readers to this dressed-up dog. Which is why I have taken the extraordinary step of completely rewriting an archive post.


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145 Comments:

Anonymous wil said...

I have two of these units, but I must say that I like the Sunpak Auto 444D's better. They have a bit more manual control and they also have the bounce, rotation thing going. You can also add color gels and filters to front of the unit. I've found the Sunpaks a little cheaper than the Vivitar 285HV's on ebay.

February 05, 2007 11:47 PM  
Anonymous Earl said...

I followed the Ebay radio trigger threads on the Flickr forum for a while - a lot of problems with the Canon flashes. I bought a used Vivitar 285 in good condition for $40 and it worked perfectly! I'm looking to pick up another!

February 06, 2007 12:59 AM  
Blogger Gary Payne said...

I'm glad these flashes came back. I have been using them to light sports and portraits. I thought these flashes were no longer being made. Glad to see Vivitar came to there senses not to discontinue a good piece of equipment. I noticed you didn't mention anything about a metal foot to plug in to a Pocket Wizard. I assume you are still able to do that with this flash?

February 06, 2007 1:23 AM  
Anonymous Kurtj29 said...

This is great! I have a Canon 580 that I am really thinking about selling on ebay and getting one of these. Great job! I was wondering when someone would see the market for a cheap flash. I hope they sell a whole bunch. Now if someone could just do a reasonable priced Pocket Wizard knockoff....

February 06, 2007 1:44 AM  
Blogger Eric the Red said...

I snagged a pair of 283s for less than 50 bucks. MINT. Well put, workhorse. I use these as mains as they are really powerful and you know all about my mod of a DIY VP-1

-Eric

February 06, 2007 1:58 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Oh man, I'm glad I snagged a cheap 285 before you posted this. These things are built like tanks - I've dropped mine from around 6 feet in the air, with nary a hiccup in its performance.

February 06, 2007 2:39 AM  
Anonymous Anthony said...

I'm confused about that little Wein "Peanut" Microslave attachment. So I would attach that to say...one of those Vivitar 285HV flashes and then it could be triggered by another flash? Possibly a 430ex? Help me understand.

February 06, 2007 3:19 AM  
Anonymous Fred Fund said...

Does anybody know where to find them on this (eastern) side of the atlantic pond ?
Ordering them in the us costs half the price of a unit.
Thanks in advance

February 06, 2007 3:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can purchase Vivitar 283 on ebay for around $ 40 and then add a vari power adapter and wein peanut microslave unit and still have a strobe with better capability than buying a 285 new.

February 06, 2007 6:43 AM  
Anonymous Arly Shooter said...

One has to wonder whether someone like Vivitar, Sunpak or Quantum wouldn't market a portable, battery powered, manually adjustable flash which actually includes both a PC jack and a built in optical slave!

February 06, 2007 7:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been using the SB-80DX, but after my visits to Strobist, I went to my equipment closet to dig out my old 1974 workhorses and umbrellas to try some new lighting ideas...2 283's with all the accessories. Wheew! glad I read this before I plugged them in direct and risked turning my DSLR into a baked potato, Thanks, that's what's great about these online forums.
Now a question.. I assume those "peanuts" will work fine to fire the 283's, I just need to figure what to trigger them with?

KB

February 06, 2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger Curtis N said...

I don't understand why you dismiss the auto flash capabilities out of hand. It's a useful feature that can reduce the shoot/chimp/adjust time requirement in some situations.

There are no "perfect" flash units, but the Vivitar 285HV looks like a nice "chore tractor" for the money.

February 06, 2007 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never understood the appeal of the 283. I liked the 285 better because of the variable power and I like the zoom head. I used the 285's fow weddings with a Mamiya 330 on the auto thyristor settings and they were awesome. Way better than ttl.

JM

February 06, 2007 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was Al Jacobs who got me onto these a few years back. Great flashguns, cheap as chips and hard as nails! Go buy two on Ebay for the price of one old Nikon.

I've used these next to my SB-800 and it's basically the same power output give or take half a stop. That and a simple zoom head, adjustable power and, with external battery pack, near instant recycling.

Great news they're back in prod'. Don't bother with the 283 as the VP-1 modules are near impossible to get now.

285's rock!

February 06, 2007 10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused, Vivitar's web site does not list any flashes at all and their customer service says they no longer make flashes. Any ideas as to what is really happening?

February 06, 2007 11:46 AM  
Blogger Deer Old Dad said...

Woot! I am so happy that I picked up my used 285s last month before the cat got out of the bag. Buyers should beware, though. These units are fairly bulky and there's no swivel.

What are the "freebie samples" of filters and how do I get one?

February 06, 2007 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Adam said...

I used to like 285s, but eventually I found them too inconsistent and too weak for their size (not to mention the abysmal recycle times). The proprietary connector is a real turn-off, too.

February 06, 2007 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

To Adam-

I use my 285's with nickel-metal hydride (NiMh) rechargeable battaries. They totally rock on both the number of flashes and recycle time. Make sure you get 2500 mah or higher capacities, too.

-Eric

February 06, 2007 12:41 PM  
Blogger bleeding.patriot said...

B&H has the "freebie" gels. Just go to their website and search for Rosco gels. Sort by price and you'll see the sample packs for $0.01.

February 06, 2007 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now if Vivitar (flash), pocket wizard (receiver) and manfrotto (adjustable tripod and umbrella head) could get together and design a single case unit with no open wires and flimsy flash camera feet that would be awesome!

Maybe there could even be an extra compartment for 4-5 extra NiMh batteries to increase recycle times and extend flash life!

February 06, 2007 3:06 PM  
Blogger Steve Leibson said...

To Anthony:

You trigger the slave-equipped flashes with another flash, probably attached to your camera's PC outlet or hot shoe. I just did a 3-flash setup photographing a dancer in a studio last weekend. A Viviater 283 marked "Korea" or "China" is safe on a dSLR's hot show as it presents a low trigger voltage of 6 volts. It's the ones marked "made in Japan" that can possibly deep fry your camera's flash circuits.

February 06, 2007 3:16 PM  
Blogger Clive Evans said...

My "Joe McNally" kit is six 283s, two more Armato converted to bare bulb, two morris mini wides and two morris minis.
Works for me!
Clive

February 06, 2007 3:45 PM  
Blogger Jeff's Photo Blog said...

JeffM

I am having trouble with my 285HV and my e-bay slaves. The slaves trip my SB-28 and SB-28DX and eve the SB-800. Anyone else having this trouble.

February 06, 2007 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad this is coming back. Looks like Vivitar understands. Now, if someone connected with PW understood the "boiling frog syndrome", they could increase their market share. If a business fails to observe changes in the marketplace or in customer needs, and fails to react, they won't be able to see the subtle changes which eventually amount to a large shift in the marketplace (read: ebay triggers or the like). I think a trimmed down PW version, with $100 or less price tag would make a lot of strobists dump the ebay's in a flash (pun intended). You can buy a full-blown beamer, or a beamer with fewer options, but BMW still increases it's market share, not "some other company".
Thank you Vivitar for bringing back "the tank"

February 06, 2007 10:27 PM  
Blogger stephen said...

I poked around but didn't see this mentioned anywhere else. Pocket Wizard makes a small miniphone to PC-female adapter (available at MPEX or with photo at B+H). With the Vivitar flash's included Vivitar-to-PC cable, shouldn't this satisfy the PW connectivity problem, too? I haven't done it myself. It's cheaper than a miniphone to hotshoe adapter.

February 06, 2007 11:04 PM  
Anonymous rmstudio said...

I barely had noticed that they where discont. Glad they brought them back. Its so so strange that people would go and buy a 430 canon or a second 580 flash! are they nuts? they could buy a 2 of these flashes and a set of radio slaves for what it cost for 1 canon 580! They talk as if they can not live without Ettl or schmit ettl !!. Who cares those ettls are not worth "squat". Totally unreliable depending if there is a white wall behind your subjects or a mirror near by or a black wall or just shooting out in the dark outdoors. To many variables. Shoot manual and its dead on every time period. Newbies wake up and get a clue and see how the old pros have done it for years!

February 07, 2007 3:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thats FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC! No more buying broken SB's from sleezy ebay sellers at tripple thier 2005 price. In fact, I'll probably sell mine for as much or more than the price of a 285HV and pick up a couple of those instead. Looks like a very nice unit, especially for the strobist way of working. Very nice. (BTW, I never managed to find even ONE used 285 when I looked... the new market is the way to go!)

Then I just have to buy a pair of PW's for my main flash, a couple of those optical slaves for the second/third/..., and ditch the unreliable ebay radios.
-Tim

February 07, 2007 10:34 AM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

This is indeed cause for celebration. I am a cave photographer and have been using the V285 (and 283 and a handful of other miscellaneous strobes) since the early 70's. My Vivitar strobes have stood up to some grueling conditions underground, being dragged down crawlways, up and down numerous pits and probably some time in the water as well. Workhorse indeed! The only problem I've ever had has been corrosion of some of the battery contacts and dirt getting into the sensor dial on the front. I've learned to take them apart for a full cleaning of the window and the round electrical contact points inside that tiny little device. I've also noticed that the spring contact point in the hotshoe (where you plug in the PC connector) sometimes gets corroded. It's a bit more challenging to clean that as it involves taking the shoe apart, but all my strobes still work.

As a vendor of some cave photography equipment, I was directing people to the Sunpak 383S as an alternative to the V285. Same GN but also with a swivel head and full dial down capacity of 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 (which 285 didn't have) and 1/16. One drawback to the 383S may be the dual swivel head, meaning the possibility of breakage under tough conditions.

Since someone asked about slaves, I am the US distributor of Firefly Slaves for Cave Photography. They are an astounding infrared slave that can trigger up to 1,500' away (yes, that's correct, one thousand, five hundred feet). They trigger around corners, behind rocks, etc. They will also trigger a flashbulb/flashgun configuration such as a Honeywell Tilt-a-Mite, something none of the other slaves will do. There is also a new digital version of the slave called the Firefly 3, designed to work with as many preflashes (or none for that matter) that your trigger flash puts out. Contact me at pjcaver@gwi.net for more info if you are interested.

To sum it up, if Viv flashes can survive the trashing I put them through, they are about the best workhorse flash on the market. I am VERY PLEASED that they're back again!

pjcaver

February 07, 2007 10:40 AM  
Blogger Alan Morris said...

Great news. I just ordered one and the pocket wizards. I have been using an SB800 with the Nikon CLS system but set up time is slow and manually setting the flash is a pain

February 07, 2007 10:56 AM  
Blogger David said...

I use 283s with VP1s mostly for the remote flash stuff, I like them better. They are smaller and the VP1 has a smooth adjustment rather than a click-click. They have great duration especially on the lower settings if you shoot action, I am not sure but I think the duration is a little longer on the 285s.
I need to keep up with this blog, lots of good stuff on here. One of these days I'll get back into the flickr strobist group.

February 07, 2007 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't trust any Vivitar 283 flash. All you need to do is turn it on and attach a multimeter from the pin on the bottom to the metal on the side of the shoe and measure the voltage. You do this when the flash is on -- as far as I understand it you don't need to trigger the flash (the voltage change would barely register on a digital multimeter anyway). Do the same with any 285 HVs you buy. I have found that made in China 285 HVs are low voltage but again when it is *so* easy to check you should do so.

One trick I read to trigger optical slaves is to put a piece of exposed film in front of your onboard DSLR flash. The spectrum of light to trigger the optical slaves will get through but the other light won't. I think David (Strobist) wrote about this in one of the many excellent essays.

I brought my 285HVs a couple months ago when I saw how much SBs were going to cost.

February 07, 2007 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Baz said...

Great to hear that new Viv 285s are around again! Pity they did not add a swivel in this incarnation .. and the addition of 1/8th power would have been nice, too.

February 07, 2007 12:50 PM  
Anonymous GomoX said...

Another very good option in the same spirit of the Vivitar is the Sunpak 383. The sync jack is a standard sub-mini plug (and they include a PC cable, too), they have manual power from 1/1 to 1/16 (without skipping 1/8, what's up with that??), and a tilt/swivel head too. They do not have the zoom head, though, but they are smaller than the 285s. They run for $80 brand new at B&H or Adorama.

February 07, 2007 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be interesting to see a 3-way shootout between the sunpak 383, vivitar 285, and a used SB24 since all are at about the same price now.

February 07, 2007 4:33 PM  
Blogger Phojo Nick said...

This is ridiculously insanely cool!

I haven't used on-camera strobe for anything -- anything -- in the past month. Multiple reasons, one being that I'm sick of never getting a good exposure in ETTL.

The day before you posted this I had a brain flash! I remembered that when I started out in photography with a Vivitar 283 that it got the flash output very very close all the time with no fiddling required from me (other than to tell it what aperture I wanted to use).

Then I had a second brain-flash! Why in the world do I have a $300 flash wasting away in my camera bag when I could get just as good results from a $50 283?

So next morning the first thing I do is put my 550EX for sale (it's already sold too), with the idea of getting one or two 283s. After I post the sale listing, my RSS reader tells me that there's a new post over at Strobist.com. So I click over and what do I find? Vivitar is making brand new 285s that are safe for modern cameras.

What excellent timing is that? So the next thing I do is call my supplier and my brand-new $90 flash will be here next week.

Sorry, I just think this is the coolest thing to happen for a while.

February 07, 2007 5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can remember about the 283 is that it had a range of about 10' and that I was overjoyed to replace it with an E-TTL flash.

Forgive me for not getting over-excited at this reintroduction, but maybe I'm not seeing it the same way as the rest of you.

February 07, 2007 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Anonymous:

First, he is takingabout the 285.

Second, If you think the 283 only had a range of "about 10 feet" then you are probably better off relying on TTL!!! Just try not to think and let your expensive camera drive.

Eric

February 07, 2007 8:30 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

Thanks for this great article. I've been thinking about putting my 285 back to work, and that little microslave looks like the perfect way to do it. Glad to see these units back in production, and I can't believe the price -- I'm pretty sure mine (my second) was $100 when I bought it 17 years ago.

February 07, 2007 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see this, as I intend to buy a set of 285HVs to jump into this Strobist boat.

February 08, 2007 7:52 AM  
Blogger Matt Neighbour said...

Grrrrrr!

285HV at MPEX - $99

285HV at Jacobs in the UK - £99 !!

You see why we UK strobists have a hard time?

Cool that Vivitar have seen the light and done this, though. I did wonder why people blow so much on the SB800s etc, I decided to buy a Quantum T and Turbo, used, for a similar price. The 285HVs look ideal for additional lights.

February 08, 2007 8:58 AM  
Blogger ericrudd said...

Sure would love to see some pics taken with the 285HVs.

Eric

February 08, 2007 10:32 AM  
Blogger Phojo Nick said...

Anonymous- You musta had one seriously defective 283! Isn't the 283's rated guide number like 110?

February 08, 2007 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dislike Vivitar's proprietary connector also, but at least Pocket Wizard has a PW-to-Vivitar cable: Pocket-Wizard MV1 Miniphone to Vivitar Cable - Straight - 12", Mfr# 80441

February 08, 2007 1:12 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

I ordered a 285HV today, to get started on this crazy Strobist action before I head to Iraq. I'll probably have at least 3 of them by the time I get back.

February 08, 2007 10:40 PM  
Anonymous brian said...

don't know if it's been said, but a really nice extra feature of the 285's is the flash duration at full power which is quite fast; about 1/1000th of a second. Perfect for freezing action without having to turn your flash power down.

February 09, 2007 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently bought a film camera (Nikon FE) and the guy sold me his complete kit; lenses, filters, flash. The flash was a Vivitar 285HV unit. All the stuff was babied by the original ownwer. Haven't used it yet, infact I was gonna sell it. But now, I'm holding on to it! Sweet, thanks for the info!!!

February 09, 2007 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,
I am wanting to try and use a couple of the Vivitar 285HV's with eBay radio triggers, but can't quite figure out if I need to purchase additional sync cords to connect up or not.

I am looking at this eBay "kit" (which looks suspiciously like the one's B&H are selling under the Speedtron brand) and am thinking that I would need the receiver to have a female PC socket to be able to connect the 285HV via the Vivitar's supplied PC sync cord. Is that correct?

Thanks if you could shed some light on this or suggest some other cheapo, but tested eBay radio triggers that work.

February 09, 2007 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weird. The description for the B&H Speedtron thing reads like an optical trigger.

February 11, 2007 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question on the Vivitar - I found a description that gives the Guide Number on the 285HV as:

70' @28mm
100' @35mm
120' @50mm
140' @105mm

These "mm" numbers represent the different ways you can extend the flash head, right? Is there a page on Strobist that explains how this works (ie: when to position the head in which slot)?

February 13, 2007 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read about the re-into of the Vivitar. I still have my old 283.

I recently bought a Metz 54MZ4 to use on my Canon 1Ds. It will run in traditional "Auto Mode", it's pretty decent for on-camera PR stuff. Bounces good with the betterbouncecard method. It also runs fully manual with a flash power reduction dial.

I am in the process of getting the parts to make an umbrella rig that holds my flash like in the Lighting 101 tutorial. I am going to make a custom top with some alumimum bar stock and 2 cold shoes to hold both my Metz and 283, aimed into the center of the umbrella.

Anyone know what is the approximate degree of flash angel the stock Vivitar 283 flash lens has? It would be nice to dial in my Metz to produce a similar light as my 283 when I run them together into the umbrella. My Metz head lens goes from 20 to 105 degrees.

February 20, 2007 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally I think the 285 lacks because you can't go lower than 1/16 power compared to what 1/64 with sb24.

If you want to work around the proprietary issue on the sync and you want a foot that you can screw a stud right into it, you might look into getting a
Flash Foot I from Holly Enterprises in Van Nuys, CA
Might take a little searching to find them but I think they sell for $50 a bottom portion to retrofit the 285 so you can plug a household connection into it to trigger the flash. It's metal with a screw hole in the bottom for a stud so you can attach it to a camera pretty easily or you can just by the wein hsh hotshoe adapter.

February 21, 2007 2:02 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Just got back to reading Strobist, happy to see about the Vivitar 285 coming back. A few comments:

1) 1972? I bought my first 283 in 1976 and my recollection is that it was a brand new model then, announced as new in late 1975. It came standard with the remote sensor cord, too, which I still have and use.

2) Why a 283 instead of a 285? Same output, less size. One of the wonders of a 283 is the small size of the flash for the amount of power it has. I carried mine on bicycle tours, etc., when size mattered a lot. From a Strobist point of view, though, the 285 is much handier, especially with the built-in Vari-power.

3) High trigger voltage issues are waaay overstated. The early ones did have high trigger voltages, but later models (1990 on?) went at 6V. People froth about this, just get a voltmeter and measure it. And has anyone actually fried a camera with a 283/285? I hear dark allusions, I've never heard a firsthand account.

4) One guy thought the 283 only went out to 10 feet. What? I've used them for years at greater distances than that bounce-flashing.

5) I like the 283 enough that I wrote a page about it. See A Day in the Life of a 283 which is nearly all (please forgive me) on-camera flash. Also, for a fun Stupid 283 trick, take a look at this photo where a 283 on yellow range, close up, caught a hammer smashing a light bulb.

6) Having read Strobist, I got a couple of PWs and have been having all kinds of fun. Beware, though, the PocketWizard Vivitar cord is very sharp and pointy!

Great blog, by the way, I still use on-camera flash for some things but am expanding my horizons. Never too old to learn, certainly never too old to buy new gear!

Cheers

Matt Cole, Saint Paul MN

February 23, 2007 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Wayne Abraham said...

This is not the dependable 285 of old!

Encouraged by these reviews and wanting to own one for a long time, I purchased a 285HV for Ace Camera Club through amazon.com.

Five minutes into testing it I heard the loudest explosion you'd ever hear a flash make, then smoke began coming out of it.

The retailer has not answered the email I sent out since last night, and they would probably suggest that I send it for an exchange.
I also emailed Vivitar but they are yet to reply.

Living in Trinidad in the Caribbean, this would be an uneconomical option.

May 11, 2007 9:50 PM  
Blogger Ricardo said...

Hi!
I just ordered a 285HV from ebay.
I want to use it off camera, triggered by those "el cheapos" RD616 eletronic triggers from ebay (always ebay...)

My question is: How the RD616 receiver is conected to the Vivitar 285?

Should I buy any adapter, cord, or it has a headphone style female inlet on it?

I ask it because the RD616 male plug is a headphone like...

Thnk you

Ricardo

June 15, 2007 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

Anon said:
Personally I think the 285 lacks because you can't go lower than 1/16 power compared to what 1/64 with sb24.

Look at http://www.hiviz.com/activities/guidebook/Activity_02.html to see how to drop the power way way down using a paperclip (try THAT with a Nikon).

My 283 goes down to about 1/200 power (7.5 stops) when those pins are shorted out.

July 11, 2007 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got 283 x 2 and 285, just buy replacement feet from e-bay when, not if, you break them.
I also have a 365, vari-sensor and fully manual variable power monster hammer unit, will they bring that back too???

July 30, 2007 8:16 AM  
Blogger Ernie Rice said...

I've been using vivitar 283's and 285HV's for 10 years or more and I never knew that the peanut slaves would just plug into the side of them..... jeez....All that needless messing about with cords.


Thanks Dave....

August 02, 2007 5:53 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I got excited about this, but heard these 285HVs are unreliable. See the story of the "exploding" 285 above. I will not buy this. I'd rather spend more money no quality than to fry a shoot. After all, these are made in China. And look at it: you think you could get a good pro flash for 90$?

August 31, 2007 4:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wein Peanut Slave Help:
I was having problems getting my Sunpak 383 Super to respond to the Wein Peanut Slave. After googling similar issues, I discovered that the Wein Peanut is meant to interface with PC connections AND Vivitar connections. News? Not really, but it meant that I needed to slightly "bend" (shift, really) the center post/pin of the 383's PC Cord. Connection made. Problem solved. Hope this helps anyone in the future.

September 01, 2007 3:04 PM  
Blogger vinnie said...

I just bought two Vivitar 285HV units and Wein peanuts to supplement my off camera flash. They will not work together. I ordered some of the Sonia slaves from eBay. They won't work with the 285s either. The 285s work ok with my pocket wizards. My studio lights and an old Hanimex manual flash work with both the Wein peanuts or the Sonia slaves. The problem is obviously with the 285s.

October 03, 2007 6:12 AM  
Blogger vinnie said...

Just to update my last post. I read on a Flickr thread that Wein told a poster that the Peanut needs 5v to trigger. My Vivitar's trigger voltage measures at 4.3v. This probably explains the problem

October 03, 2007 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the 1980's I had several 283/285's and they were real work-horses. I read this review and promptly ordered a 285HV from NY.

It worked for 33 shots and failed. I ordered a replacement (overnight) as I needed it for a shoot. It arrived and I put in brand new Duracells to form the battery and nothing. Several tries later, I got the flash tube to light-up (stay on, faint like a LED).

Both flashes are leaving today, back to the NY store for a refund.

I was really disappointed to have these fail. I don't think I get another one.

-LANLINE

November 02, 2007 9:50 AM  
Blogger Deanna said...

To Matt and others about trigger voltage...

I'm a little confused that just the designation of "HV" means it is safe. My 10-year old 285 says "HV" and it is definitely not safe and yes, Matt, I did fry my circuitry on two cameras with it, both times because my Wein Safe Sync went out but still allowed flashes through. (This is over the course of 8 years since I moved to digital.)

I bought a new 285 today based on reviews saying it WAS safe now, but now I'm wondering what is the difference? The manual makes no reference to changes in trigger voltage. I'm still a little worried about using it without a safe sync.

I asked an electrician friend to test mine with a voltage meter and got such grossly varying measurements that he was unwilling to say for sure it was one thing or another.

December 07, 2007 4:41 PM  
Blogger David said...

Deanna-

The "HV" designation has nothing to do with the trigger voltage, It means it will take a high-voltage battery pack.

The new Vivitar 285 HV's all have safe trigger voltages, FWIW. It is the older ones that can be out of range of your digicam.

December 07, 2007 5:38 PM  
Blogger Deanna said...

I only brought up the "HV" because of this line in the post:

PLEASE NOTE that older 285's which are NOT designated as "HV" are NOT voltage safe and can fry your digital baby. Be warned.

I wanted to be clear that my old 285 DOES say HV on it and is not safe. You have to check them to be sure, as they do not refer to their trigger voltage in the manuals.

Last night I got out a voltage meter myself and checked it. On my old 285HV (bought in 1999), the resting and ready trigger voltage is around 5.6 volts BUT when you fire the flash, as it is recharging, it spikes to 10-12. I tested my brand new 285HV and it was down to 2 or 3 when resting and only spikes to 4 or 5 when recharging.

The only physical difference I can find between my old one and new one is the shiny discs are bluish on the new one instead of pure silver. I will mark them to never mix them up!

The day I fried my Canon 10D earlier this year I had done six shoots in a row, about 700 images, using very low fill flash with the 285 in the yellow setting. I heard a little pop and my camera would no longer fire the flash via hotshoe OR x-sync. I pulled it off, and the flash worked on a different camera. I pulled my Wein safe sync off and could hear something jiggle loosely. I figure I had been shooting with it broken for part of the day and finally fired one too many 10+ voltages and it fried the circuitry. It's a $350 repair.

But the new 285HV checks out as safe! Hooray! It's a GREAT flash. My professional photography group tested five major flashes including Metz, Canon, Nikon, Sunpack and this Vivitar for consistency using about six light meters in a light controlled environment. The other flashes could be off as much as 2 STOPS at times, but the Vivitar never varied once.

December 10, 2007 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Zak said...

@ Deanna

I just bought a 285HV and also saw that the shiny disks on the sides are blue. It turns out that these disks are just a blue film to protect the silver from scratching when in transit. Just peel it off.

December 11, 2007 4:16 PM  
Blogger Deanna said...

Ha! How embarrassing. Blue film! I guess I'll go pull it off now!

(I forget to take my lens cap off pretty much 100% of the time too--it's the mark of a seasoned professional, really!)

December 13, 2007 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Claytonbing said...

Deanna...thanks for you post. I recently bought a new 285HV from MPEX but then started doing the search to see the voltage ratings and see if it would be okay on my canon rebel xti. The mpex site claims it is safe, but searching on the web pulls up varied information. I am assuming this is because Vivitar did not change the name for the old 285HV and the new one, so when people post about them, so are talking about the old voltage ratins, while others are talking about the new ones....so confusing. So anyways, I have been worried about it frying my XTi. I was considering going and buying a voltmeter just to be sure, but your post has made me feel better.

December 18, 2007 6:16 PM  
Blogger ST said...

Hi.
This is what I got as my 6" sync cord, not the one described above. (I think)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/14566529@N03/2132124283/

Did I get the wrong sync cord?
Or am I wrong? (I'm new to Strobist:))

December 24, 2007 1:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the Wein Peanut digital slave trigger, I tried two different ones with my new 285HV, and neither worked. From what I've been able to find out, the Wein peanuts work better with strobes that have a trigger voltage greater than 10 or so, and my 285HV's trigger voltage is only 4.5. I finally gave up, and bought a set of the V2S radio triggers from Gadget Infinity. So far I've been very satisfied.

January 03, 2008 4:57 PM  
Blogger hamish said...

I had trouble getting either a Wein Ultra Peanut or a Fotodiox hotshoe slave to work with a new Vivitar 285HV using NiMH batteries. The problem disappeared when using lithium AA batteries, and was much reduced using alkaline AA's.

January 15, 2008 1:48 PM  
Blogger hamish said...

I mentioned above that using lithium AA's in the Vivitar 285HV made the optical slaves more reliable than using alkaline AA's. That was 50 flashes ago. Both 285HV's started to smoke within 30 seconds of each other after 50 flashes and are now not working. Is it possible that new 285HV's are incompatible with lithium AA's or is it possible that after a total of 75 flashes they that likely to just die together?

January 16, 2008 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings,

Anybody have any ideas where I can find a non-working 285HV for parts? I've got one that works great but It's missing the lens elements. If so I'd greatly appreciate an email. Thanks!

- Owen

anotherheathen "at" hotmail dot com

January 22, 2008 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings,

Anybody know where I might pick up a non working 285HV for parts? I have one that works great but it's missing both lenses in front of the actual flash element. If you have any thoughts I'd appreciate an email. Thanks!

- Owen

anotherheathen "at" hotmail

January 22, 2008 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

been debating about this for a ew days - been told that the canon 430 is a more powerful flash than the vivitar 285. also tried it with a vari power adapter but when used with the peanut slave the power varies changes depending on what i chose asthe setting for teh bult in flash. shouldnt they be independent? also will the vivitar 285 burn up my canon 30d camera?

January 24, 2008 1:06 AM  
Blogger Danny Bayer said...

My 285 worked fine with an ebay radio slave until today, when it began firing out-of-sync and then stopped working altogether. Still works fine with the the camera hotshoe or a hotshoe sync cord, though. Rather annoying, as I was just getting into using two off-camera flashes.

February 02, 2008 11:53 PM  
Blogger Chris Hoffman said...

After reading Stobist.com, I decided to take the plunge and buy one of the Strobist kits from MPEX with the Vivitar 285HV.

The connection between the hotshoe to household cord and the Wein household to hotshoe adapter was flaky, sometime worked, sometime not.

However, while diagnosing the problem, I test fired the flash with the built in red button, and heard a loud pop and smelled smoke.

Called MPEX, and they are going to exchange the defective gear for no charge.

I hope that this is a case of a defective unit, and not the model in general.

February 05, 2008 8:35 PM  
Blogger Gabe said...

I bought a wein hotshoe optical slave from MPex for my brand new vivitar 285hv. Nothing. Couldn't trigger it with my 580ex. So thinking the Wein was defective, sent it back for a replacement fotodiox. Still nothing. Had MPex test a fotodiox before shipping it to me, said it worked fine on their 285 (hv?) so I get the new slave (3rd replacement) and still nothing. I can't tell you the frustration level right now. So I took the fotodiox to a local camera store and it fired perfectly on their 283. So I'm thinking I have a defective 285. But then I read about the voltage trigger levels and lithium vs NiMh batteries. So I'm going to test that but I don't want my vivitar to start smoking like that one guys.

February 07, 2008 6:17 PM  
Blogger Gabe said...

Ok got it to work. On the battery housing for the vivitar is says alkaline 1.5v, I was using 1.2 nimhs. It would be nice if there was a large red sign printed on the box saying 'won't work with most rechargeables!'

February 07, 2008 10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will the voltage excess on the older flashes fry circuitry when connected to the pc port or only the hotshoe?

February 22, 2008 6:06 PM  
Blogger Deanna said...

The voltage excess with fry the cameras period. Hot shoe or x-sync. You must use a safe sync with older 285 models. It won't happen right away. It can take a few months in some cases. The first camera I fried took about three days. The second one (my safe sync had quit working) happened in one very intense day of shooting, about 800 fires.

February 25, 2008 10:56 AM  
Anonymous Jed Smith said...

Be careful on the newly produced 285HV flash units. I just bought one, and like many it seems, had it produce smoke, a pop, and stop working. Opening it up it is a 1/4 watt sense resistor that fails and am now jumping through hoops with Vivitar's warranty process trying to get a new one.

March 24, 2008 3:00 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Is there a way to hook these flashes up to radio transmitters and if so, which ones work the best?

April 17, 2008 6:46 PM  
Blogger Chris Hoffman said...

I use pocket wizards with the Vivitar flash and it works well. Just make sure you order the correct cable when you get your pocket wizards.

April 17, 2008 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

My father was a wedding photographer from the 1960's up to the 1990's.

He said that the Vivitar 285 was the only flash that actually put out the power which the manufacturer claimed.

I have his flash now - and he has bought himself another one.

April 25, 2008 7:01 AM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

pjcaver here again. I posted a comment a year or two ago about how happy I was that the 285HV has been reintroduced to the market as it was such a good workhorse flash unit. Experience has led me temper my opinion of them.

The operative word here is "was". Like so many other things, they just don't make 'em like they used to. The construction is much flimsier than it used to be. I've sold quite a few of them over the past couple of years and I am disappointed with them, compared to their predecessors. I've had several people return them to me after normal usage and the problem seems to be fairly consistent: They appear to charge up to full capacity, but they only emit the weakest of flash (as though it is permanently set on 1/16th power) when set on full manual power. There have been a few other problems as well such as the battery holder contact not contacting properly.

I absolutely love my older 285HV flashes and an assortment of other Vivitar flashes I've acquired over the years, but I give the new 285HV flash a thumbs down for quality control. I no longer recommend it to my clients in cave photography but rather suggest the Sunpak 383 S as a better alternative.

pjcaver

June 09, 2008 6:39 AM  
Anonymous tony said...

I just want to check that I really understood this correctly:
If I have a flash with the wrong voltage, can it damage my camera regardles of how I sync it or does it have to be connected to the hotshoe?

Just checking...

June 10, 2008 4:40 AM  
Blogger Deanna said...

Tony, if you have an older flash with too high a trigger voltage (like the OLD Vivitar 285s, not the new ones) it can damage your camera (ususally over time, not in one shot) if you put it on your hot shoe OR use your x-sync cord. It cannot damage anything by being slaved either by infrared, radio, or light pulse, as there is no voltage going to your camera in those cases.

I agree that the new Vivitars are not as good as the old ones. In regular use, they take as much as FOUR TIMES LONGER to recycle as the old ones. I may blow out a safe sync every 8 months, but it is worth it to have a near-instant recycle on my 9-year-old Vivitar. A baby's smile is often very fleeting and a first bridal kiss doesn't happen on replay...

June 10, 2008 9:23 AM  
Anonymous shauqi said...

i just bought 2 units of vivitar recently form ebay. Then now, I'm thinking of buying a wireless flash trigger from ebay as well.

1) can vivitar 283 be triggered by wireless flash trigger? to particular the model of that trigger is PT-04 V2.

2)How do i control the output power on the vivitar 283? Because some say that i need the varipower VP-1 adapter in order to allow me to control the output power? If I dont have that, am i able to control the output power?

3) some of the readers said that the vivitar 283 and 285 without the "HV" can fry the camera circuit. But if i want to use those flash only for off camera flash (wirelessly), will i face the same problem?

June 30, 2008 6:44 AM  
Anonymous wedding photographer france said...

Just a word of caution for European buyers:

I am a wedding photographer in France. I bought my Vivitar 285HV by mail order from the US. It arrived 3 months later and did not work.
I discovered there was a vivitar after sales company in France, called them and they offered to have it fixed.

I don't hear anything from them for 1 month after sending the unit in. When I call them they claim to never have received anything.

I spend a few hours with the French post to get the receipt that the parcel was delivered and upon faxing this receipt to Vivitar France they miraculously find my strobe again :)

They say they're waiting for a batch of these to arrive from Asia in the next month.

Another month goes by and when I call them they say they can not receive such flashes in Europe because vivitar has not paid a special licence (ROHS). So they're sending the broken flash back to me.

conclusion: 6 months, a lot of postage expenses, custom duties expenses, phone calls, time... and still no working flash :(

July 03, 2008 4:44 AM  
Blogger jake said...

Shauqi:

The cactus trigger & receiver (pt-04, v2) you mentioned work great on my 285hv; I just connect the receiver straight to the flash via the hotshoe connection. The receiver mounted on hotshoe on my 30d triggers it consistently. Do the same with the 283 and you should be in business.

As mentioned in above posts, don't worry about frying anything when you're shooting off camera with the cactus triggers; there's no voltage involved with the camera.

My only concern is like most others...there may be times when I need to have the vivitar on-camera, but until I get myself a voltage meter to ensure my 285hv copy is under 6volts, I'd rather be safe than sorry and only use it off-camera.

July 06, 2008 2:10 AM  
Blogger Angelvs said...

Hello...

I'm thinking about buying one of this 285 as an off camera flash to use when shooting on locations (umbrella, etc.) but I have only one doubt...

I have an ALZO flash trigger/receiver: http://alzodigital.com/online_store/wireless_flash_trigger.htm

Question for any fellow photographer who wish to help a newer brother =)

Will it work with this flash?


Thank mates ;)

September 10, 2008 7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The slave "angelvs" inquires about is actually the same radio slave for sale on eBay under many different names. I know because I just acquired one from a friend last week. Tried it out with an older 285HV I acquired back in 1992 during a National Geographic Television shoot in Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico.

The 285 still works like a charm after all these years. The small slave we're talking about here works up to about 50 feet in a straight line of sight, but no more than that. I know there are lots of blogs out there talking about boosting the distance they will trigger from by adding an antenna of sorts, but I have not pursued this myself. The friend who gave me the slave to try out said that he's experimented with it and has had success up to 400 feet away, through several walls. I think there is some question of the legality of doing so, but I'm sure what that is.

I am about to teach a cave photography workshop at Carlsbad Caverns National Park on Oct 22, 23, 2008. Using this radio slave will be a benefit for shooting the cave using strobes. Even though I am the US dealer of Firefly Slaves which are designed for cave photography, they are so sensitive to flashes that they will be false triggered by people over a thousand feet away from me, causing all sorts of problems. As such, radio slaves in this particular situation are the way to go. In any other cave photo situation, I would certainly use the superb Firefly slaves as they are the best, by far.

Once again, I am not a big fan of the new 285 HV on the market. They're just not as good as they used to be.

pjcaver@gwi.net
www.pjcaver.com

September 10, 2008 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After a few months of gentle use, mine died. I would not recommend this product.

October 09, 2008 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just picked up a Vivitar 285 ( no HV) at an estate sale for a couple $$- New in the box Made in Japan- Can it be used on a Digi- Ie. D2h or via cable to a grip.

Love the flash with my daughters AE-1...

My SB-80 just doesn't cut it for the D2H

November 08, 2008 1:01 AM  
Anonymous Phoric said...

I have two brand new 285HV's and just purchased two of these AC adapter units, which are supposed to work with this strobe. I have been unable to get them to work. Despite the advertising claims and what the manual states, these strobes will run off batteries only. I am not the only one having this issue. No one has yet come forward with a fix, including Vivitar. A previous reviewer here reported the same thing, and many more can be found on this thread at Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/strobist/discuss/72157603963277639

Has anyone gotten these to work with 285HV's? Having the same issue? Fixed it? Please post your input on the thread linked above.

November 13, 2008 2:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I great site, although I don't get to frequent it enough, I have just subscribed to the email notifications so that I can keep on top of things. Great post about vivitars. I have been using them for over 10 years now, it was my very first flash, and I tend to use them now more than any other strobe/flash I have. I even bought a few for under $10. :) Anyways, just thought I would send a comment stating on what a great job your doing. Cheers

James

www.hodginsphotography.com/blog

November 23, 2008 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The brand name Vivitar or some portion of this company has been acquired by Sakar. I learned this today after my 285HV broke down, only one month after the original purchase. Sakar promises to honor the original warranty, but not until they begin to manufacture Vivitar products (scheduled for February 2009). I am considering purchase of a second flash in the interim. Canon maybe?

January 02, 2009 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

February 2009

I bought mine from mid west.
The flash wouldn't synch with the peanut slave. The tip of the pc cord wouldn't properly fit into hole. It was loose. I applied pressure to seat it properly and even then the flash woldn't synch.
I have several older 285's. quality of new one's is cheap.
mid west was very cool...they wanted to send me out another one and i opted out and bought used nikon sb's from them. very nice, helpful people, i would NOT recommend the new vivitar 285 still same problems.

February 10, 2009 12:24 PM  
Blogger GeoffreyWithAG said...

I recently got ahold of my father's old Vivitar 283 from 1975! Amazingly, after dusting it off, it still works! What a piece of equipment. My question is, however, after reading about the voltage syncing with new digital cameras, what is the best and easiest way for me to use it as an external flash with my Nikon D300? Do I need to buy a radio transmitter or wireless hot-shoe link or can I connect it up to the camera using the hot-shoe - to - "light sensor" (on the flash) cable that came with?

BTW, I am new to strobist, and have been on your site every day for a week! I'm a new fanatic!!

February 27, 2009 11:24 AM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

Two things: GeoffreyWithAG has found an old V285. If it was made in 1975, it was likely made with a very high trigger voltage. In the small print under the head of the flash, it will likely say Made in Japan. DO NOT use this on the hotshoe of your digital camera as is. You will probably fry the electronics on the first shot. Invest $50 in a Wein Safesynch which will lower the trigger voltage to an acceptable 6 volts, safe for on camera usage. You can attach the V285 to most slave units which will not be damaged by the high voltage and trigger them with your built-in on camera flash as an alternative.

Phoric asked about using the AC adapters to power their flashes. I read the responses about it on
the Flickr website and agree with most of what people are saying. I use older V285s and if you plug in the adapter, you MUST turn the flash ON for it to work with the external power adapter. Won't work otherwise. Recharge time is VERY fast, indicating it is not the batteries that are powering it. Older V 283s work WITHOUT turning the power switch on.

As for the new V285, I already said several times before to avoid buying it. It just is not what it used to be and seems to have caused nothing but problems for most people. The older versions are great workhorse flashes and can still be bought used and functional off eBay. Use them all the time myself in my cave photography and they work great!

pjcaver

March 06, 2009 11:23 AM  
Anonymous James said...

Great article.

I've been using an old nikon SB-26 manually on my Bessa r2m rangefinder, using a Nikon CS-17 off-camera cord and it works well.

Though I'm thinking about getting a 285HVs, can i still use my CS-17 cord with it?

Cheers!

March 08, 2009 10:44 AM  
Blogger Richard Smallfield said...

Hi, I saw a Wein Peanut Microslave in a camera shop when I was in town and a week later rang and got them to post one out to me - but what I got was not a Microslave, but an Ultra Slave (PN-XL) - second-hand. On the box it says it's a high-powered version of the original 'Peanut' slave and that it's compatible with the Vivitar 283/285 and all non-dedicated flashes. Which makes me wonder if it's compatible with my Nikon SB flashes. I do know that the original Vivitar had a high sync voltage and I don't want to damage my SBs. Can anyone tell me if it's safe to use with SBs? thanks, Richard

March 30, 2009 11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard: You should have no problem using the PN-XL slave in terms of voltage. The slave is a passive device (no batteries) so it will not hurt the strobe. It is only when you mount a high voltage STROBE on the hotshoe of your camera that you need to be concerned. However, the PN-XL is designed to plug into a Vivitar strobe OR use a PC connector (Prontor-Compur is the name of the company that originally designed it. It does not mean Personal Computer.... A better definition is Poor Connection). These are the older design of connectors before hotshoes came along.

Since Nikon is very proprietary of their designs, you may not be able to plug the slave into the Nikon flash. I'm not sure if Nikon SB strobes have a PC connector either. I don't think they do.

Sorry for the bad news concerning the Nikon strobe. Your slave will work fine with a Vivitar strobe, though.

pjcaver

March 31, 2009 11:50 AM  
Blogger George said...

Re: Wil's comment about the Sunpak 444D and gels. There are colored filters for the Vivitar 285HV available on eBay for about $10, but you can actually slide gels into the slot on the side of the flash head: it works with a 2" (or 5 cm) wide gel, like those sold at www.flashgels.co.uk.

April 03, 2009 1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would not recomend trusting your analog or digital meter to measure the spike that you 283 could put into your camera. Neither will really tell you what is happening. An oscilloscope showed mine at over 40 volts. I always use a safe synch

Did someone say the safe-synch could leak if bad?

April 06, 2009 10:51 PM  
Blogger Bardster said...

I bought one of these in the starving student pack from Midwest, everything seemed fine except one thing, the flash does not fire, I can press the button on the back and make it fire and that's about it. Not from the hotshoe adapter with cable to it, not with my Elinchrom triggers, only hassle I had with it so far. So I threw it on a shelf and left it there, and use my Canon EX 430 II and Nikon SB 28 instead. I honestly believed this was a good flash, now I know it's a worthless flash for me. Don't buy it is my advice.

April 18, 2009 2:42 PM  
Blogger David said...

Bardster-

Those flashes are guaranteed. Just contact them and arrange for a replacement.

-DH

April 19, 2009 3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, i own an SB600 flash and a cactus wireless trigger and receiver for use with my D300.
i Now need a second flash but my badget does not allow me to go to sb line. how can i make VIVITAR 285 to work with my setup?
will i just have to purchase 1 more cactus receiver and connect it on the vivitar ?
Please help
thanks
Steve

May 06, 2009 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve: You will probably have to buy a second Cactus receiver of the same model number as the original one to trigger your second strobe. I've read in several ads for the Cactus that there have been some design changes and that they are not compatible with older versions of the Cactus. You only need the one transmitter (you couldn't possibly fit more than one on your camera hotshoe as it is!), but each additional flash unit needs its own receiver. Be sure that all the receivers are set to the same channel as the transmitter. Also be sure that each strobe is set to flash on manual mode. The SB600 can be set to work with TTL metering or manual, the V285 can't. As such, you have to set the SB600 to manual to match that of the V285 which, by default, is manual. If you have them set to different firing modes, you'll find that one of the flashes won't appear in the image you just took, despite swearing on your mother's grave that both flashes went off! They may have both fired, but the shutter wasn't open when one of the flashes went off. It can be enough to drive you out of your mind!

An alternative, but one that's probably not very practical, is to use a visual light or infrared slave on your second strobe. The light flash from the strobe hooked up to the Cactus will, in theory, trigger the second strobe at the same time. However, that depends on the output of the first strobe being strong enough to trigger the second one and the slave on the second strobe being sensitive enough to respond to the light flash from the first one. This would work in an ideal world, but I have yet to take a single shot where everything has been ideal!! As such, stick with a second Cactus receiver as the way to go. They may have a limited firing range, but if your current setup works for you, it's probably OK.

pjcaver

May 07, 2009 5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets say i have a Vivitar 285HV and i would like to use it as a off camera flash, like most people use when its on a stand and it fires as soon as you take the picture with a canon. I have a canon rebel xs and would like to know what all i need to trigger my Vivitar 285HV please write back to me at kmorales3141@yahoo.com

May 20, 2009 8:52 PM  
Anonymous Nathan said...

I've used my 285HV for 4 years now, and it still works great. I have also seen that they have a 383 out now that has TTL, swivel head, built in slave mode, plus some other features. I'm just getting into the whole 'off-camera' mode of using my 285 and really like this site. Tons of info that I have yet to fully digest. Thanks for having this info out there.

May 29, 2009 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I missing something here concerning the high voltage issue? It seems to me that it shouldn't be a problem if the flash is going to be fired off camera, right? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

July 07, 2009 11:59 PM  
Blogger Bardster said...

I bought this flash from mpex and was really exited on the starving strobist kit. Problem raised as soon as I got this, the included cable with the flash will not connect in the flimsy mount which is to big for the included plug, so that way was out the window, the included wein with household cable did also not trigger the unit. So the only way to make a flash was to put it on-shoe which defeated the entire scope. Later I bought Elinchrom Skyport which again also did not manage to flash the unit. My two other flashes (Canon 430 EX II and Nikon SB 26) works brilliant in any configuration. However the HV285 is not playing ball still, consequently after trying a lot of options I am now down to one left, split a PC cable and solder it to the flimsy PC adapter port and hope that works, if nobody else have any better ideas? I will never buy one of these again due to the assembled quality but I really want the one I had for a year to at least work for my feebay work.

July 26, 2009 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Eric Baines said...

Well, Bardster, what did they say when you *called MPEX* to ask them about it?

They have great customer service, but you actually have to call them and let them know there is a problem to get it.

As opposed to leaving comments on blogs . . .

EB

July 26, 2009 10:29 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

A-HA!

I went to Goodwill today for one of my frequent treasure hunts, and WHAM!!! I see a good-as-new, big, ugly Vivitar Zoom Thyristor 285 for...

$4.99.

Picked it up. Took it home. Popped in some fresh batteries. IT WORKS!

So, really I just came to brag. I AM SO HAPPY!

August 08, 2009 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Bill Hemmings said...

Quicky course in multi-flash:

Voltage - make sure WHATEVER you plug into your camera or hotshoe DOES NOT put higher voltage into the camera than rated for, or you WILL KILL IT.

Radio transmitters are SAFE and low voltage unless you have something VERY UNUSUAL.

NOT ALL STROBES ARE SAFE. You MUST check everything.

Okay so here's what you do:

1) radio transmitter on YOUR CAMERA. No damage to your camera this way.

2) radio receiver on your PRIMARY flash/strobe. Make sure THAT STROBE is safe to use with THAT RECEIVER or you might kill the receiver (a lot cheaper than killing your camera!)

3) use Wein or your choice of other FLASH OPERATED TRIGGERs on all your other flashes/strobes. Again, if the strobe puts out more voltage than the Peanut (or whatever) it WILL KILL IT (eventually) but that's a lot cheaper than a dead camera.

No need for multiple radio receivers, which all need BATTERIES, whereas flash activated triggers DON'T.

Keep EXTRA SPARES of your critical pieces handy in case you still manage to kill something or it simply dies from a manufacturing defect.

August 08, 2009 10:35 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Measured the voltage with a multimeter...reads about 6.18V.

This should be safe to use on my Nikon D80, right?

August 09, 2009 6:12 PM  
Blogger Mark Edwards said...

Does anybody know how I can get hold of three 285HV's in the UK. I know they on offer on eBay from the states but by the time you add on postage and packing it has increased the cost by 40%. They don't seem to be sold new retail anywhere in the UK. Is that correct or have I missed a supplier?

September 23, 2009 5:22 AM  
Blogger ln_info said...

Thanks so much for this site. It's been around 18 years since I've done any off-camera flash. So, this site is fantastic to dust the cobwebs out of my brain and I'm sure learn more than I did.

I have a 285 HV that used to work GREAT when I used it all the time. It's been sitting in a box for a long time. I'd like to start using it again with my Canon Speedlight 430EX. Both off camera. I'm still afraid of it damaging my Canon 40D.

It seems like there are different experiences from the Comments as to the safety. I bought this back in the late 80's and the box says Made in Korea. I also have a battery pack. Will that change the power?

I'm eager to go through your 101 course. I actually have a lot of that equipment in a box and couldn't remember how to use it!

Thanks for any comments as to the safety considerations with my camera

September 25, 2009 2:35 AM  
Blogger Mulu said...

I don't know if anyone has seen this before, but there's a useful page at http://www.botzilla.com/photo/strobeVolts.html which lists 'safe' voltages for a wide range of strobes. At least it's a bit of a guideline even if not set in stone.

Like pjcaver I'm a cave photographer and heartily endorse his recommendation of the Firefly infra-red slave unit, an amazing piece of kit. Can't see why anyone would want to use anything else when you've used one of these. http://www.fireflyelectronics.co.uk

Hugh

October 01, 2009 7:30 AM  
Blogger h said...

Can this work with a CyberSync?

October 02, 2009 10:32 AM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

Thanks, MULU, for the comments on the Firefly Slaves. Better for someone else to be singing their praise than me as the US distributor. As a fellow cave photog, you surely know how well they work.

As to In Info's comments and questions, you're right, they WERE great strobes, especially the one you found made in Korea. Probably the best location in which they were made in terms of quality, durability and safe voltage levels. Regardless of that, you're safest bet for using ANY strobe with your digital camera is to get a Wein Safe Synch. Can't stress how important that is IF you are connecting your strobe directly to your camera hotshoe.

On the other hand, if your strobe is being connected to a remote slave, such as a Wein, Firefly or any other good slave unit, the strobe voltage makes no difference to the camera. Since it is not attached to the camera (and assuming you're using the built-in on-camera flash as your trigger) there's no problem.

I use Vivitar 283 and 285 strobes for nearly all my cave photo work. They are nearly always attached to slaves. However, I sometimes attach the strobe by way of the coiled cable that plugs into the variable output dial on front of the strobe. This DOES attach it to the camera and makes the strobe voltage an issue. Safe Synch in place and all is well with the world. Without it, you're running the risk of an extremely expensive failure to your camera.

If you're looking to learn more about lighting and to work with it, there's an excellent book by my good friend Chris Howes from Great Britain. It's entitled Images Underground and is the bible of cave photography technique. It does not cover digital photography as it was written before digital came on the market, but the techniques are the same regardless of capture method. Although it deals with cave photography in particular, it is still applicable to surface usage.

All for now. Good luck on returning to flash photography.

pjcaver@gwi.net

October 07, 2009 4:39 PM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

Thanks, MULU, for the comments on the Firefly Slaves. Better for someone else to be singing their praise than me as the US distributor. As a fellow cave photog, you surely know how well they work.

As to In Info's comments and questions, you're right, they WERE great strobes, especially the one you found made in Korea. Probably the best location in which they were made in terms of quality, durability and safe voltage levels. Regardless of that, you're safest bet for using ANY strobe with your digital camera is to get a Wein Safe Synch. Can't stress how important that is IF you are connecting your strobe directly to your camera hotshoe.

On the other hand, if your strobe is being connected to a remote slave, such as a Wein, Firefly or any other good slave unit, the strobe voltage makes no difference to the camera. Since it is not attached to the camera (and assuming you're using the built-in on-camera flash as your trigger) there's no problem.

I use Vivitar 283 and 285 strobes for nearly all my cave photo work. They are nearly always attached to slaves. However, I sometimes attach the strobe by way of the coiled cable that plugs into the variable output dial on front of the strobe. This DOES attach it to the camera and makes the strobe voltage an issue. Safe Synch in place and all is well with the world. Without it, you're running the risk of an extremely expensive failure to your camera.

If you're looking to learn more about lighting and to work with it, there's an excellent book by my good friend Chris Howes from Great Britain. It's entitled Images Underground and is the bible of cave photography technique. It does not cover digital photography as it was written before digital came on the market, but the techniques are the same regardless of capture method. Although it deals with cave photography in particular, it is still applicable to surface usage.

All for now. Good luck on returning to flash photography.

pjcaver@gwi.net

October 07, 2009 5:00 PM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

Correction: Chris Howes' book is entitled Images Below, not Images Underground. My mistake. I should not write so late at night....

pjcaver

October 09, 2009 7:16 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

There are tons of 283s on ebay at ridiculously low bid prices. As I am just a newbie and on a tight budget, I'm wondering if the 283s will work as off-camera flashes using the RF-602 triggers? Thought I read somewhere the RF-602 has a trigger voltage max limit of 12v. Is there any way to distinguish between the high-voltage 283s and those with outputs less than 12 volts before buying it? Also, where is the "Korea" or "China" or "Japan" stamped on the 283s?

November 09, 2009 7:37 PM  
Blogger MJ said...

You mentioned:
"You can always improve it with a bit of foil as a tiny reflector if need be. But that is usually not necessary."
I think mine needs all the help it can get. So, please let us know how to improve it with a bit of foli.
Thanks a lot for all the info.
MJ

January 13, 2010 9:07 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I read all the information here on the site regarding the Vivitar 285 both the HV and NONE HV versions. I have the NONE (original) Vivitar 285 (no HV) and it shows a 'port'on the left side (two prong receptical)for a ?? what I thought it was for was a 120 volt plug it I "used" to use (dog got it years ago). I checked on line and NO one has it or even knows of one. So did it have a 'power supply' of some sort (I did not use a battery pack...do cheap to buy one as I recall). It SAYS on the back of the unit (Japan made by the way, not the Korean one you mention on this site) to use ONLY a..."Vivitar SB-6 power supply". Where do I find one? AND if I cannot, do they make a 120 volt plug in for the NEW "HV" units then? I don't like using up batterys that last only 1/2 hours and die in the middle of my photo shoot. Any help here? Thank, Rick.

March 24, 2010 9:17 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I have an OLD (original) Vivitar 285 (no HV). I have lost the 120 volt plug in that I "think" went in the left side of this unit (two prongs there to receive one). Is this what it was for (my mommory, sorry, I'm 60 now and don't remember). OR with the NEW units...Vivitar 285 HV's can they run on 120 volts and NOT just on batterys. My shoots using my camera NOW stop after 1/2 hour cause the batterys die by then. (no I'm not using the nicad ones yet either). So? how LONG will the Nicad NiMH ones last? (in a photo shoot I mean). Can I find a flash that DOES run on 120 volts if the Vivitar 285's don't? Thanks, Rick.

March 24, 2010 9:28 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I'm trying to hook one of these up to my Sony a230 with a Seagull SC-5 hot shoe adapter, with no luck. I can't get the camera to fire the strobe, and I can't keep the on-camera flash from trying to pop up unless I set the flash to off. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

May 13, 2010 11:20 AM  
Blogger timdesuyo said...

I bought a couple of the 285HVs as a part of a set about 4 or 5 years ago. They've been my workhorses, and I usually pull them out before my SB-600. Never had a problem, and I can't tell you how many times I've used them.

May 14, 2010 7:52 AM  
Blogger phoric said...

For anyone still looking to power the later 286HV's with the SB-6 power supply, forget about it. Most of the newer flash units made after Vivitar resurrected this model do not work with the external power supply. Yes, they still have the power jack, and they still claim to work with the SB-6 (available from B&H), but a quick search will reveal that the external power supplies do nothing at all. The newer 285HV's are battery-only units for all intents and purposes. I suspect this is all part of the quality control issues they've had, which is why the LumoPro 160's are now the Strobist preferred flash guns.

June 03, 2010 4:22 PM  
Blogger denise said...

So I pulled my old 285HV out from the back of the closet, ordered the wein peanut and tried to put it into service today. The 285 will fire from my D90 in commander mode and/or with my SB800. Problem is that the camera does not seem to like it. No can see the flash. I'm guessing its something with the sync? I've tried changing commander mode to M rather than --, TTL, FP synch on and off. Slowed my shutter way down, still no can see. Manual full power, down to 1/16 power. Any ideas anybody? Could of really come in handy today doing those food shots with "the lunch box".

August 11, 2010 10:19 PM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

Denise: The one thing you did not mention in your review of things you tried adjusting is red eye reduction (RER). The Wein slaves are very sensitive to any flash that goes off. If RER is turned on, it will emit a series of pre-flashes from your on-camera strobe to contract the pupil of the subject. Any one of those pre-flashes will be enough to trigger the Wein slave and your V 285. Since the 285 can't recharge in time for the open shutter flash to fire and trigger it, it's dead in the water. It certainly sounds like you did everything else right in terms of trying to make in-camera adjustments. If you can see visually that the 285 is firing, then there is something in the camera settings that causes it to fire prematurely.

I use a Nikon D700 (used to use a D70) and since the Nikon menu is generally the same for all their cameras, the main issues are red-eye reduction (turn it off) and manual flash setting (as opposed to TTL). Other things to consider are the mode in which you are shooting. If you are using any of the auto- settings (auto, flash off, portrait, close up, nighttime, etc) , the camera will take over and default to what it wants to do, possibly causing RER or TTL metering, ignoring the fact that you might have turned them off in the menus. If you use P,S,A or M, you should have better control of the camera, provided that you have manually turned off the RER and TTL metering. Try setting it to M(anual), setting the flash output to manual 1/2 power, turning off RER (the eye icon) and taking a picture that way (the shutter speed and aperture can be set to 1/125 and f 8 because you are only doing a test to check for synchronization, not proper exposure). In fact, aim the remote flash at your camera and see if it shows up as a burned out flash image. This should synch for you. BTW, look at page 70 and 71 in your instruction manual to see the various flash settings in various modes. It probably explains it better than I do. If it still doesn't synch, you should call Nikon as there is some other problem there.

Hope that helps.

pjcaver

August 12, 2010 7:40 AM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

Denise: The one thing you did not mention in your review of things you tried adjusting is red eye reduction. The Wein slaves are very sensitive to any flash that goes off. If RER is turned on, it will emit a series of pre-flashes from your on-camera strobe to contract the pupil of the subject. Any one of those pre-flashes will be enough to trigger the Wein slave and your V 285. Since the 285 can't recharge in time for the open shutter flash to fire and trigger it, it's dead in the water. It certainly sounds like you did everything else right in terms of trying to make in-camera adjustments. If you can see visually that the 285 is firing, then there is something in the camera settings that causes it to fire prematurely.

I use a Nikon D700 (used to use a D70) and since the Nikon menu is generally the same for all their cameras, the main issues are red-eye reduction (turn it off) and manual flash setting (as opposed to TTL). Other things to consider are the mode in which you are shooting. If you are using any of the auto- settings (auto, flash off, portrait, close up, nighttime, etc) , the camera will take over and default to what it wants to do, possibly causing RER or TTL metering, ignoring the fact that you might have turned them off in the menus. If you use P,S,A or M, you should have better control of the camera, provided that you have manually turned off the RER and TTL metering. Try setting it to M(anual), setting the flash output to manual 1/2 power, turning off RER (the eye icon) and taking a picture that way (the shutter speed and aperture can be set to 1/125 and f 8 because you are only doing a test to check for synchronization, not proper exposure). In fact, aim the remote flash at your camera and see if it shows up as a burned out flash image. This should synch for you. BTW, look at page 70 and 71 in your instruction manual to see the various flash settings in various modes. It probably explains it better than I do. If it still doesn't synch, you should call Nikon as there is some other problem there.

Hope that helps.

pjcaver

August 12, 2010 7:41 AM  
Blogger denise said...

pjcaver
Thanks for your kind response. Unfortunatly I had already taken off the RER, and was shooting on manual. Tried changing the commander mode settings from -- to M, to TTL too, for the pop-up flash and my group 3...
After my post last night I also tried putting the 285 on the hot shoe of the D90 and it did fire AND the camera recognized it, sooooo does that mean anything? I don't really understand the how it works part. Also tried hooking the peanut to the synch cord that comes with the 285 to see if that made a difference. None. arghhhhh
Any help out there?
Thanks,
Denise

August 12, 2010 2:02 PM  
Blogger denise said...

pjcaver
Thank you for your kind response. Unfortunately I had already deactivated the RER and was shooting on Manual setting. I also went into the commander mode settings and tried --, M, and TTL on both the pop up flash and my group 3 settings. Since I posted last night I also tried putting the 285 directly on the D90's hot shoe. It fired and the camera recognized it! hmmmm, does that mean anything? I also tried putting the peanut on the little wierd sync cord that comes with the 285 and connecting it that way. No help.I know its probably some wierd setting in the camera, but heck if I can find it.Argghhh
Any help out there?
Thanks, Denise

August 12, 2010 3:31 PM  
Blogger pjcaver said...

Denise: Here's another thought: Is the Wein Peanut Slave a digital slave? If so, what number of flashes is it set for? I imagine that that's not the case, but it did just occur to me....

If your flash fires by connecting it to your hotshoe on the camera and synchs with it that way, there is still something that is not working right in the camera itself. I never use the Commander Mode so I can't really comment on that. At least you know the hotshoe foot on the strobe is working.

Just so I'm clear on this, you say that the camera flash goes off, the V 285 triggers, but it doesn't show up on the image. If that's the case, there is something in your settings that is triggering it too soon or too late. Unfortunately, these double flashes can appear to be a single flash because they happen so quickly, one right after the other. Usually the first flash is to set the exposure value (EV) and second flash is for when the shutter is actually open. Hope I'm not sounding too pedantic here as that is not my intent. Just trying to figure out what the problem is....

I'll see if I can figure anything else out and let you know.

pjcaver

August 12, 2010 6:09 PM  
Blogger denise said...

pjcaver
no worries, I appreciate you thinking about it.
I just read a bunch of comments at Flicker on the strobist thread and people are not happy with the wein peanut. (it is an optical slave) mostly the complaint is that they do not fire the strobe. Mine appears to be firing, just not when the shutter is open.
Commander mode lets the pop-up flash on camera act as a slave to fire the wireless off camera flash. In my case I am firing off a SB800 and trying to get the Vivitar to fire too.

August 12, 2010 8:53 PM  
Blogger Daljit said...

Ok i'm new to the strobist world and after reading all of this, i'm confused...
From what i understand, the 285s and 283s have high voltage which can fry my camera circuits. I was told that this could happen if i use it ON CAMERA.
Does the same fundamental apply even if I use the flash OFF Camera, using a wireless trigger? Are there still chances of my camera frying if i use it in this way?

Many thanks.

January 31, 2011 7:15 AM  
Blogger Dani Leone said...

I have mid 80s 285, multimeter shows a voltage just below 6 after firing off a few tests, jumps upto 8-12 on firing. Works flawlessly on a cheap pt-04 trigger (cactus v2 amongst others).

January 29, 2013 6:28 PM  
Blogger Samora Chapman said...

Hi I'm new to all this and I dug up my dad's Vivitar 285HV. I just got some phottix radio triggers. Is it okay to connect them to the old Vivitar? Im scared of frying them! Thanks!

And I thank you for the strobist dvd! Excited to put this into practice.


Best.

From Samora in South Africa
authorsamora.co.za

February 06, 2013 3:01 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Samora-

I think that, not knowing the sync voltage of the V285, you have to assume it is pretty high. Also depends on the model of Phottix remote. Which do you have?

-DH

February 06, 2013 4:28 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

I was looking for good manual flashes and I'm at a dead end.

Lumopro don't sell the LP160 anymore, and the new version is nowhere to be found. All is left are used nikon flashes (not a fan of used electronics...) and that vivitar crap that you suggested us to stay away from.

What's a hobby-ist to then? (see what I did there! ;) )

February 08, 2013 12:19 PM  
Blogger Max. Sanches said...

It looks like there are three versions of the 285HV: the 1970s original, the 1990s (safe for DSLR) lower voltage version, and the newest 2007 version. How do you tell the difference between them? What would the serial number ranges be?
Thanks, Max.

March 06, 2014 2:11 PM  

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