VIVITAR 283 - 285 HV 


My supply of 285HV Vivitars is  drying up, make that dried up it appears.   After five decades of production in no less than four countries B&H and Adorama have moved on to newer products and manufacturers.   I will work on them till I run out of parts, or if the demand finally quits.  I got four this week to upgrade.  Two and part of a third one need surgery.  Corrosion, I can sometimes bypass or remove.  Other than cheap build on some newer units, corrosion was the number one killer.

If you send me a 285HV in good shape fine I’ll continue to do my thing.   Before you do, take a flashlight and look down the battery compartment for corrosion. Light green to white and caused by those cheap Energizers and Store Brand batteries made by Leoch of China and they corroded.  

HINT:  Never store a flash, any flash, with batteries in it.  And had It converted it to my Black Box system years ago it would still be producing as no batteries remain in the strobe and we have no corrosion with some strobes being used daily over thirty years old.

Originally  I called it the  285HV the “Cockroach,” not especially a nice name but accurate.  Since it’s outlasted everything in the photo industry and refuses to go away.   They date Circa late, late 60’s early 70’s to today.   I have been modifying them since day one.

Though old and not compatible in some cases (no TTL) they can still perform admirably if you are a savvy manual shooter, they have been cared for, and have usefulness in background, table top, wedding and a favorite with the Teddy Bear Strobist Revolutionaries.  

The photo right of my portable crash case, I ganged five when shooting large objects like Lear Jets and Fire trucks at night for brochures and lit them off with time exposure and a nail board.

All of mine have upgraded HD metal shoes, upgraded direct Jacobs Modules, all are 283,s,  Modules locked down, safetied, never had a battery in them,  and run on my Black boxes.  Simple easy, non-conflicting. I’m still endorsing them for the tough shots where you need something; That does what you want it to do in manual or basic auto; and it is expendable.  
And with no batteries in them THEY WON
’T CORRODE!  The new owner loves them, they got sold too.

The advantages of the Vivitar are or were, inexpensive, usually reliable and if you like to simply maintain control of things, is to use it in manual mode.  To me Automatic mode is great for event work and when you don't have time.  We take (M) manual mode for granted. I like to control the light.  

Having spent a good portion of my life in the lab, I have seen the results of the TTL,  “P” and “A” modes. Blown highlights and or underexposure. The amateur believing the machine is better than the mind and the eye. Not always, machines match, they don't think.


They had a brief rebirth with the strobists, an internet group who support frugal lighting.  Well, sometimes a  bit too frugal and I don’t need a twenty page report  so-called reviewers each week on something I’ve been with for longer than they have been on the earth.   I worked on them for repairs, and much of the data they accrued is wrong.   What appealed to them was it has true manual with four settings. 1/1, 1/2, /1/4, 1/16  but unfortunately Vivitar omitted the 1/8 power.   

Yes, they omitted 1/8 power and this set the Strobist World On Fire, with pages of diagrams, documentaries from electronic kit builders, distraught shooters exhibiting all kinds of hand wrenching, gut-wrenching, colon-wrenching dissatisfaction and dismay, a few building elaborate variable modules.  We built ours (see below with less than ten dollars worth of stuff from Radio Shack), thirty years ago. No biggie.  

No matter what you do, you still have a strobe of F8- potential at 10 feet with ASA/ISO 100 with a good one.  Get over it, it must have something to do with cranial-rectal dyslexia. If you need 1/8 power move the strobe back two feet or forward two feet closer and you changed the power setting by modifying the distance. 

It also offers "squelch mode"  commonly called A mode in automatic only. The squelch is a simple (pre TTL)  lens sensor that does the job if aimed right.  It is an on-board sensor, the globe in front of the strobe, basically a light to subject and squelching circuitry made of simple analog componentry. 

This is light of a very simple, subject to distance nature, and in shutter speed mode you can control the amount of background illumination by simply altering the shutter speed. It doesn't bother the camera. It thinks for itself.  



The older 285HV’s are strong, can take a fair amount of abuse if the capacitor is OK and hasn't leaked or shorted.  You should be aware of some of the older ones shortcomings like synch voltages which can destroy your camera.  The Vivitar’s were manufactured in four countries, Japan, Taiwan and marked CHINA embossed, Korea and now the current version (see notes) from the mainland of China so they do differ.

The key is on the bottom. On the frontal area near the hot shoe it is recessed molded with the country of origin. Though all the units are similar in shape, size, and function, they differ in sync voltage, the boards inside , size of the wiring and reliability.  

New is not necessarily better.   Be especially wary of the oldest, the Japanese because of this high synch voltage and age.  But the Japanese model is great with a light trigger or optical slave, then and only then is it safe.  Again the bottom should say in capitol letters JAPAN, KOREA, CHINA (Older CHINA ARE TAIWAN) or may say nothing.  Nothing is newer but not necessarily better. 


Guide numbers are truth, everything else is guano.  I don’t care what these reviewers tell you.  If the reviewer says its guide number is 120... stop reading, it’s another “cut and paster”.

All flashes even if the same make and model might differ. Test:  Use a good flash, nothing you suspect is wrong with it, and an ambient light meter like the excellent Sekonic 358B.  We read consistently under exposed shots using a guide of 120 which SAKAR and B&H both claimed on a bevy of 285’s guide of 120 because the manufacturer said that.  At normal setting of the sliding hood, expect an F.8+ strobe.

Lets be right up front. The truth is that head concentrates the beam center, just look at it and if you extend the head you’ll get a higher reading but what we call an Al Jolson shot center and you get severe edge falloff.  So the Bride and groom with luck look good and the rest of the wedding party is in the dark. Use it at a mixed Wedding with White dresses and Black Tuxedos, mixed participants, and Solomon of Bible fame couldn’t figure out the exposure so you won't have blown dresses and underexposed participants on the ends.  

The 283 is no different.  For more color saturation use a guide of ƒ8 and low ISO.  Also ƒ8 with the 283, since the smaller head without the telescoping head tends to underexpose.  Many flashes today are measured in narrow pure white test rooms with 85 to 105 lenses and that tends to produce higher guides as the beam is narrowed by the flash head motor.  Some (many) of these 283’s have very high voltage and can kill a new digital.

After testing ten 283's at ISO 100 at a measured ten feet the best round, norm was ƒ8.2.  One has to see if there was any new advantage to taking the thing apart to add 1/8 sec. to the manual settings on a 285.  Frankly I do not see it. With one touch of my finger I balanced my exposure by going from 3.45 to 4.2 on the digital camera or backed the flash two feet.

I do not  repair Vivitars anymore, I’m done, almost forty years is enough and it got tougher every day, with them getting older and cheaper basically with little value.  I’m getting ones that sat in a garage for thirty years, in sad shape, and I’ll cut to the chase, regardless of any work we do, we are not responsible for a failure in these units just because you stole it off eBay.  

Running this flash on AA batteries is a disaster for a pro. Too slow. Very slow. Incredibly slow. It is very slow on AA cells and wastes them pretty quick. Get the point!  The damn thing is slow, about as slow as the passing lane of the Aldabra Islands Tortoise Race See PHOTO.

Meanwhile for those who shoot still-life teddy bears and flowers who don’t make real money doing weddings, sports and events can do with AA cells and not worry about it.  This flash needs a battery pack period.  And it has a bad reputation of battery leakage doing a lot of harm some of it coming from the cheap holders for the batteries, cheap batteries, the clips metal differing from battery metal, they corrode.

Using a module cuts down on collective heat inside the flash cooling the unit better and doesn’t corrode. The module is screw locked in place, eliminating fallout and further corrosion.  1500-3000 shots on full to partial power should cover most jobs.

The first part is adapting the unit to a Black Box or Tuxedo. The 285HV in all models and the 283 uses a battery holder or "clip"  for four "AA" type batteries.  We will be modifying this part, totally ripping it apart, removing all corroded or corroding metal, and converting it into a module saving you about thirty dollars off the price of a MA2.  I have made thousands of these still in use all over the world and never had one fail. 

There is nothing to break or screws and locks falling out.  In addition we add, an 8-foot length of LOW VOLTAGE 18 gauge wire for use on light stands.This puts the pack lower to the floor for stand stability.  We then use our HD DINS which mate to the Black Box or Tuxedo.  

We seal the compartment with hot glue and a very small black screw but enough to prevent modules accidentally falling out. We bulletproof it!

This is a solid change over, and as long as you don't try to cook it or burn it up with umbrellas and a ton of other devices that dull the sensor forcing full pops you'll do OK.   In forty five years of building packs for this strobe, NO ONE ever asked me to turn it back. Includes door cutting and locking it in place.

Thus, when you increase the power supply for running the strobe with a black box, it is more powerful and consistent but we still have the communication with the camera or transmitter to beef up and on the 283/285 that is done through the foot.  The foot is the communication center for this beast.  And it's got two major headaches.

The first weak part, the foot;  It breaks before it rips the top of your camera off, that is good. The problem is the slightest jar breaks it. It is too good and thats paramount to being bad. I have changed 100s of the plastic ones only to get one back a couple month later. So we go to metal. 

The second weak part of the Vivitar is the proprietary synch cable which absolutely sucks period. It is responsible for the reputation of the strobes total inefficiency and misfires a good part of the time. 

The standard single pin hot-shoe. This is a normal hotshoe, as shown to the right.  It also means that on any strobe you now have, you can add a "hot connector". Like the Cowboy collection AKA "Ghetto Tranmitters”.  Or use the PC port (far better than the Vivitar port)  to Mini-plug for Pocket Wizards.   Most of the ghetto transmitters add about an 3/4 inch to the height of the rig, the PW adds none. I will continue to install the metal shoes as long as they are available, the one that has the hotshoe as shown.  I am running low. Few in production anymore.

NOTE:  I have had no failures using a little tool from B&H  made by Westcott and costs under eight dollars. There is another from Paramount but not worth the price.  Nothing from Paramount is worth the price. Much better than the plastic foot, the metal shoe will correct the weird Vivitar small cable that goes into the foot,  fails, frankly sucks on the plastic foot and this tool will keep it new.

You can order these two parts direct.    It is available from a friend of mine at  FLASH ZEBRA  #0120  This cord has a male PC connector on one end and a mono mini-phone plug (1/8" – 3.5mm) on the other.  The cable is straight and approximately 15 inches (35cm) in total length.  

This cord can be used to connect a flash or other device that has a female PC connector to a Pocket Wizard, CyberSync or Elinchrome - Sky-port.  It is a functional replacement for the similar cord that comes packed with a Pocket Wizard or CyberSync.   There is also a direct coiled version available.  The Price of the #0120:     $9.00 + shipping.

Item #0040 Coiled Male PC to Pocket Wizard, CyberSync or Elinchrom Skyport


This adapter can be used to directly connect flash units that require a Male PC connector to a Pocket Wizard, Elinchrom Skyport receiver, or CyberSync receiver.  

This works perfectly with the Nikon SB-24, SB-25, SB-26, SB-27, SB-28, SB-800, SB-900, the Canon 580EX II, and many other flash units and Vivitar metal shoes that require this Male PC connector.  This cable provides direct and reliable function by eliminating multiple cord adapters that often result in misfiring.  The cable is approximately 10 inches relaxed, and over 30 inches extended.

The Price od the #0040:    $13.00 + shipping.


If yours is injured or bad, trash them, I don’t want them for parts or any other reason.  If it doesn’t work after a reasonable effort on your behalf and you do send it to me, we have to make an adult choice, I can send it back to you, and you throw it out after wasting money on return postage, or I throw it out and you save you money  as the return shipping and me doing the packaging the post office is more than a minimum of  13.80 priority.  Nothing salvageable anymore and I just sold off 200 plastic foot or shoe on the 283/285 for $0.30 ea.

You just got some of the advantages and pitfalls of the Vivitars. Am I being negative, no, just informative and realistic as I'm too old and experienced to get excited over something I've stared at for more than 3/4 of my life. 

Today the 285HV strobe is just another mass-produced product out of China but I think further production is not in it’s future.  The 285HV is as great an evolutionary item as the first Pentax Spotmatic or Nikon F.  Once you get past the advertising, myths, sales hype, eBay promises and embellishers off their game, and use it to its potential; it can be a workhorse and a good one at that when used in a dual bracket like the Perfection (under DIY) which allows the flexibility and double the power from a single black box.