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Strobist: Does Anyone Understand Vivitar 285 Flash?

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by Dayo, Jun 6, 2007.

  1. Dayo


    May 1, 2006
    My Starving Student Lighting Kit arrived today..two days after the 102 start date so well pleased.

    Once I convinced the secret agent at the post office the honking Vivitar Flash didn't have night vision capabilities :confused: , I was free to go and didn't even have to pay customs!

    Unfortunately, the Rosco gel set that was supposed to be part of the kit was missing.* Will make do with the Nikon supplied ones until they fall apart.

    Here are a couple of quick obligatory cat shots



    Being Strobist related, here are the setuo shots

    Now to the Vivitar flash. Does anyone know where I can find clear instructions on how to operate it? The manual that came with it is so puzzling, I think the writer must have been a copy writer for the politbureau.

    The only clear thing in there is to set to Yellow for good exposures which is true for normal flash stuff. Can't get my head round the calculator thing although I know I will be using the manual power settings.

  2. Don't waste your time trying to figure out the Vivitar. Just do what you did here. These shots are terrific!
  3. gvk


    Jun 17, 2005
    Mystic, CT
    I have used these Vivitar 285s for more years than I wish to count, but since I now have 2 x SB-800s I rarely use my remaining 285 except in manual mode. I believe that the general principle of using the calculator is as follows. You first set the ISO on the outer ring of the calculator dial, and set the inner disk of the calculator to "Full." Then set the desired auto flash range by selecting one of the colors (yellow, red, blue, purple) with the mode control ring (surrounding the vari power sensor that is plugged into the front of the flash). Finally set the camera in manual (or aperture priority) mode with the shutter at maximum sync speed or slower, and the aperture as displayed on the calculator next to the selected color. The sensor on the flash will control the exposure.

    To use the 285 in manual, just select M, 1/2, 1/4, ... with the mode control ring. The calculator can be used to estimate aperture versus distance, or just divide the guide # by flash to subject distance, and iterate after checking the histogram. Be advised that the actual output level is notoriously inaccurate for these units, but seems to be relatively consistent from shot to shot. If you calibrate exposures via some test shots you should get repeatable results using manual mode.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 6, 2007
  4. I used to own a 285 years ago but it has been so long I can not remember anything about it. Sorry.

    Your pictures are fantastic.
  5. Dayo


    May 1, 2006

    Thanks. What I did was to use the SB800s.

    I had figured out the manual settings and was going to use it in that mode anyway. I guess it is the obssessive in me trying to get the full picture of how it works.

    Thanks. Amazing what a bit of controlled light can do. The 285 is the new rerelease and boy, it is a hulk of a flash unit!
  6. Dayo


    May 1, 2006
    Think I finally got the Viv setup. Thanks gvk. On rereading, seems the writer wasn't actually a speech writer for Chairman Mao as I had first thought.
  7. Lowolf


    Jan 26, 2006
    these are great images well done and a great model
  8. :biggrin:

    I had similar issues with the instructions for the Sunpak 383 flash I started with a few years ago. I was glad I fought through the instructions, because using a non-dedicated flash taught me a lot about exposure
  9. Dayo


    May 1, 2006
    Apologies to Midwest Photo Exchange.

    The gel was included in the umbrella bag. As the blank back showed and it looked like a piece of paper, I assumed it was just instructions and promptly ignored it until Moishe pointed me to it.

    Those ROSCO gels are flimsy like the stuff that comes with the SB800 but the Storbist seems to have what look thicker.

    What gives? Velcroing these to the flash unit will not work. I suppose this method could be used but I wonder what it is David is using. I will try to velcro the ROSCOs and see what happens.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 9, 2007
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