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.

I received many of them ( they had blue coverings on the side plates)  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 retail, SAKAR had the molds and the race was on... most in the garbage today. 

I will not work on them 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 slightly better stuff on the market.  You might 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. 

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 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 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.  These were Japanese, stronger than death but they used good HD components in those days,  and the nail-board time exposures with a 4x5 and cinder blocks for steady-ness worked great.  No synch problem but I still used rubber gloves with the nail board.

THE SURGE:  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.  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.  

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 some of it coming from the cheap holders for the batteries, cheaper batteries, 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 and making direct connections to my power pack.

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, 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.
My pack will bring it to life.
I can supply modules

About once a week I get asked “ Do I support the Quantum Flash series like the T2, T4, T4D, T5D's and Trios".  And the second question is, do I rebuild the Turbo 2+2 packs.  The answer is NO and my final answer NO! I usually get the call after someone got a two hundred to four hundred dollar upgrade or repair bill from the new folks who bought Quantum. I’ d love to help them but. 

•  Simple...my battery packs will not work on them, thats reason enough.
•  They are capacitor driven and capable of 335 volts.  
•  They made their products totally reliant to function on their own ancillary products through the use of specialized cables, lots and lots of electronic components, secret assemblies, no schematics, whiz bang technology, blinking lights and turn signals and very few outside repair facilities so It’s called profit and makes big dollars.  
•  Then they sold out to 
ProMark Brands, in Bartlett, IL and most of their prices went up.  Repairs are expensive.
Many who wind up with one needing overhaul, dump it on eBay because they can’t afford the repair.
•  To power these units you’ll need to get a Quantum Turbo, about $400 to 679.00 new and about the same used if you get a bad used one you thought you stole on eBay that needs repairs.

•  Thats the hidden costs of those things. One will not work without the other and now you have two expensive parts and if pack A gets used up during a wedding, you'll need a spare.  A Trio and two packs is about $2000 and no guarantees after you spend the money it will perform as expected.

•  I do not service any Quantum packs anymore either.  At one time I did. I used to re-battery them, tweaked the comparators and returned them to service.   There are just too many that are getting too old, too many versions, different boards, and some are beyond hope and really need the garbage can.  
•  Once in a while if you are nice I will re-battery a QB-1 or QB-2 but forewarned only with ZYLONS which were the great original factory battery.  No subs and they are not cheap. Today they use less capacity less expensive batteries which fail quick with lowered capacity.  I do it right or don’t do it at all.

•  Otherwise send the pack to the nice folks who bought Quantum and expect from about one to two hundred dollars for batteries and a new board if it needs one. With new batteries they will calibrate the pack, if the boards are still good and you will be putting them right on top of hot batteries which will kill them again. 



Those black and silver cases were  DCB's, beautiful, expensive and advertised as "the fastest battery pack in the world”.  True but fifty seconds later they became known as the shortest lived pack in the world when they blew the guts out of a bunch of about a 100 just released brand new Canon 580s and when the smoke cleared, that was the end of the DCB company and their product and a bunch of working Canons.  

It also showed a bad flaw in the 580 series one that it didn’t like accelerated packs, overheated and blew.

The sports shooters got blown away because a fellow sports shooter Rob Galbraith touted the program for his freebies.  This batch came to me when no one else wanted to tackle them. They were so hard to take apart we used a drill press and wood blocks to get the old swelled packs out of the cases.  

When we got them apart, we knew we were dead in the water. Couldn’t put anything back in due to swelling and corrosion. I believe these might have been from the vendor at Busch Gardens. The only outfit dumb enough to buy them and he is in my town. Thats 12,000 dollars of no good plus strobe that got blown.

I get calls all the time because the company was located fifteen miles from me fortunately they died off.   They were dispatched to the aluminum pile, with the  only salvageable parts were the micro switches and  screws.  DCB of Trinity blamed the cable company, Paramount Cable, Bronx NY for putting too strong a capacitor in the cable which was their idea of how to step down 14.4 volts of hot Ni-MH and then accelerate it direct into the flash head capacitor claiming a full power burst in sub second interval.  Canon said, “ Not my problem, unauthorized usage with non Canon parts“   Years later, there  was still a blame game till Paramount sold and DCB bellied up.   

If you buy an original and it’s dead I know of no one in the industry working on them.  If you are so enraptured by the round reflector shade buy one of the clone knockoffs from China so you look good and when it toilets buy another one.  Round shades were great when we had 21/4 square format,  slow ISO’s like Panatomic X, Plus X, and Verichrome and needed the sharp specular light to make them work. 

One guy luckily gets a shot with the round reflector and all the lemmings jump on the bandwagon with their gotta have lists.   Their first job with the harsh light blows out the highlights and trashes it.  I was friends with the Armato brothers on Long Island years ago and some of these strobes now have had five or six owners, mostly Strobists, who get really excited about them. (Makes them look pro)

Warning:  Capacitors especially the big dual stage ones in them can be shockingly dangerous (lethal) in the rain.   Again, there are no parts, no boards,  no tech support, most schematics lost,  and the newer equipment with higher clean ISO’s really filled the gap.   Their advantage was for a time period forty years ago with slow based film like Plus -X and VPS etc.   All that has changed in the market with digital. You will need a Quantum HV for the 300 to power it if the cable is right. If not stand back.


422D - 433D SERIES:  These models perform well on the Black Box - No Problems with the 422D-433D - 120J, if they are still alive.  They can be used  either on a stand or on the camera when used in manual mode or/with “ Auto Thyristor Assist" if used on digital bodies.  

Their Low synch rates on voltage made them safe and a much better performer than their failure prone 383 which was a price promotional model. Cables are available. These work great and easily converted for slaves.  Do not buy a SunPak 383 It was very weak in its design, construction and longevity and as a competitor to the Vivitars it sucked.  Fortunately it was very short lived.

But many SunPAK’s can be found in pawn shops, the good part is you can steal them.  Bring batteries, and test them, Use the MG2 Cable.  Developed by one of the oldest flash importers, the SunPaks date back to 1963 when they were established in Saitama, Japan.  They were really popular in the analog generation.  Offer ten dollars telling the guy they only work on film and film is dead.  He won’t know.  Check the battery compartment, usually thats killer one since they left the batteries in it. No I will not clean it for you. Cheaper to buy a Yong-Nuo or Neewer.

The 120J SERIES:  Is another fairly good performer, designed, styled after or copied from the Quantum “ “ series. Quantum's prices scared people so SunPak took the 400 series, stepped it to bare bulb and added a domed hood.  They are fine on stands and brackets and produce a specular light. The diffuser or modern frosted coffee can lid style is the better way to go since it’s not bigger than the reflector.  Still usable till they fade out.

611-622 SERIES:  Another great legacy performer (the 611) that did well on the Black Box and I pushed this unit because of its power and reliability during it’s era.
A good one today will out perform almost any strobe made.

Problem was, it’s bigger than most cameras, heavier and very complex.  Next problem is they are basically non-repairable. Unfortunately, they made the obituary list, no longer sold other than a few lying around, few independents like me saved parts for them and no one in their right mind would work on them, so off to the trash heap.   

CAUTION:  There are a few for sale going around and even some bases, thats the huge handle part which can be found but no heads, so don’t get trapped buying one without a working head.  Again they are not repairable, very complex to take apart with about five miles of wire, not fun to work on so don’t ask me.  

522-544-555 SERIES: Recently I started getting requests for the 522 series. Now these units used a six battery setup in the head meaning a demand for 7.2 voltage and that allows me certain liberties in what I manufacture.  

I will be offering the Black Box with an appropriate voltage in NiMH with capacity exceeding commonly used AA and NiMH AA batteries.  Actually we are configuring 3800 NiMH 186 cells into two columns with a capacity of 7600 Milliamps which can exceed almost any other configuration out there.

WARNING:   An option I have seen might be a pack constructed from large Lithium-Ion being aware of the airlines reluctance to allow on board.   I am quite familiar with this since I wrote the article and I do not work in Lithium,  a lot more dangerous than you think.   Just recently one of our local battery stores found out what happens when they tried to weld (we don’t solder packs, it drops them 20%) Lithium.    SEE TSA