VIVITAR 283, 285



My supply of good 285HV Vivitars has dried up.   Adorama and B&H  have moved on to newer products and manufacturers.   Thank goodness, I was getting disgusted because the last batch the Strobists got excited about from mainland China were junk and I received a ton of eMails if I could still repair them.  

They were the ones with no country of origin, the molds were altered and filled on the bottom, to hide the country of manufacture and had blue clear covers over the side plates.  I first worked on these in the late sixties early seventies, thats a long run.  And we had parts. The 283-285’s, manufactured in five locations in the world, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Mainland China and a few from Indonesia (Very Rare, I only saw one)

I received many of them,  blown, and useless since a few I opened had no consistency.  Nothing to fix, not worth it.  They were designed for the “Surge” that occurred when the “Strobists” went gaga over them.   B&H, Adorama and others went into full court retail, SAKAR had the molds and the race was on... most in the garbage today. 

I will not work on them for repair  or any other Vivitars any more, I have run out of parts, none available,  and the demand has dropped since there is a lot newer and in peoples minds slightly better stuff on the market.  You might if lucky and pay too much find metal feet and if you order a pack I will build modules, just no repairs. Dead, trash it.

The other big false-hood was lies about it guide number, it is not by any stretch of the imagination a strobe with a guide of 120. I have probably tested two thousand of them over the years and the strongest were the Japanese at 8.8. One hit 9.1 on a Sekonic 358 using a few tricks.  The Japanese may have high voltage synchs but were killer strobes , strong and powerful.

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, minimum fifty plus years, I’m not even sure no more.

Though old and not compatible for some, (I couldn't care less) 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 283  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 had 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 used them for forty years.  Top three in a gang 10 degrees apart and the bottom two on longer power cords for the outer edges of the large objects.  I used three Black Boxes for power till I built the 

“KOWER- BONGER”,  the huge Black Box show on the left, which went to a board with five triggers.

These were Japanese 283’s, stronger than death but they used good HD components in those days,  and the nail-board time exposures with a 4x5 and cinder block light stands*** for steady-ness worked great.  

No synch problem but I still used rubber gloves with the nail board, thick rubber gloves.

They had a brief rebirth with the Strobists, an internet group who support frugal lighting.  Mostly,  a lot of reviews unfortunately most info was cut and paste.
  And so far off the truth it was a joke.

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, farting of nuclear proportions, gut-wrenching, colon-stretching gas pockets, letters and threats, dissatisfaction and dismay, a few building elaborate variable modules.  

What really appealed about the 285 was CHEAP, and they were very affordable till the rush took place and used prices shot up.  By the way we were building variable modules thirty years ago, no biggie.  I even had one laying in my kit : See pic.  I use it now as a variable on my reading lamp which is LED.

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” arsehole looking for recognition of the fact he just learned how to turn a lamp on. Switch up - switch down!

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.  Why? Most of it coming from the cheap holders for the batteries, cheaper batteries used, the clips were from differing metal chemistries, and adding electricity, you will get exaggerated metal, corrosion.  
Off to the garbage, some I saved by ripping apart, removed all metal and converting them into external power supplies. Thus making direct connections to my power pack.  No metal, no conductivity, no corrosion!

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.  Am I being negative about the 283-285, 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. 

I can still replace the foot with a metal one if we can find one. I can still make you a module!  My pack will bring it to life.  I can supply modules and packs.           NO REPAIRS, IF THE UNIT IS SHOT, DEAD IS DEAD, IT’S A FINAL KIND OF THING.

DUAL VIVITAR 285 COMBO   $250.00  LAST ONE  04/04/2018

This is a great combo for a backup setup, or when you don’t want, need or have to drag the heavy gear out for a quick shoot, or a shoot with the possibility of parts flying. This is in 98 percent condition, and thats not adding my two cents. Practically new.

The Past - Somewhere around Disney in Florida years ago there is a Vivitar 285 buried or under the swamp that fell off the mount of a biplane at 1000 feet that has never been found since I had my name and phone number stenciled on it with a reward.  

I have lost them on drag racing and stunts where that 400 dollar NIKON or CANON wasn’t going. Today it’s closer to 600.00

I smashed one by accident running from a news conflict I was covering when a Molotov Cocktail hit close to a Police Car I was behind, snapped it clear off the shoe, the camera was OK.  I didn’t look for it, I was running to get out of Dodge.

This kit is the last of the complete outfits for METZ and Vivitar I have left.  I’ll build from scratch for you if we find the right parts.  Oh the one on the right is a Wein mount and voltage reducer, about sixty dollars  in the stores. The pack is one of our two hundred dollar units.


The Wein Safe-Sync Hot Shoe to Hot Shoe regulates and reduces the flash sync voltage of the flash from up to 400V to less than 6V. This is especially important for current automated SLRs or digital cameras when used with older flashes or lighting systems.

This model mounts directly to a camera’s hot shoe, great because it allows the unique synch cord we use with the Metz to plug right in the front. and provides a hot shoe on top and a PC female flash connection on the side.  Y

You can have a flash connected to the hot shoe and a flash being triggered by the PC female connection-and unlike so many other offerings of this type, both will fire simultaneously from the same signal. The exception to this rule pertains when using 1 or 2 flashes that are already under 5V sync voltage. In this case, the flash or flashes will not fire.

Many of you wanted modules for Vivitar to use on a light stand with 8 ft cables. 
We make our own modules for Vivitars. 
They don’t break nor corrode like the others. 
This also includes cutting a door slit for the module, 18 gauge low resistance cable up to eight feet, and secure screwing the door shut. 

•  Cable and Labor $40.00 with your battery clip $50.00 if I supply the clip.
•  New Metal Foot Installed with Hot Shoe only with Black Box Order    20.00  as long as shoes available
•  New Metal Foot Installed with Hot Shoe only  without Black Box Order   3
0.00  as long as shoes available
•  Non-Coil Extensions    (eight feet long)    $40.00 includes shipping
If you supply a MB4 we will modify it to a Din connector for $10.00, no charge if ordered with a new Black Box or Tuxedo, at the same time and shipping would be free.