Oldies but Goodies - Vivitar 285

Posted by Las Vegas Photoshoot Locations under
     Had to seriously dig into my archives for an image I shot with these lights. It's been a while...

     Vivitar 285HVs have long been a favorite option for off camera lighting for budget minded photographers. However, in the past couple years, so many better and cheaper options have come to the playing field, that they've lost a lot of their shimmer.

     There are so many of them out there, though, that I can hardly go to a Goodwill or Salvation Army and not see one for $7, so they may still have a spot in your bag

     My first venture into Off Camera Flash involved a Vivitar 285 I picked up on the eBays for $50 after much suggestion from various forums and websites. They were the ideal manual flashes for beginners, and one of the least expensive options to get started. My second and third flashes were also Vivitar 285HVs. Once I discovered YongNuo flashes, however, I sold all three, and jumped ship.

     Just because I no longer use them doesn't mean they don't have a use, though. There are just better options out there now. If you're perusing the aisles at your local thrift shop and see one for a couple bucks, absolutely pick it up. Let's have a look at them.

Practical Power:
     The way we will be using this flash, in modifiers, this flash puts out f/10 at ten feet. Reading charts and the manual, you'll see GN80, 100, 120, 140, these represent the guide number at various zoom levels. Once you put the flash in a modifier, though, the light output at 35mm typically gives us the most accurate number. With the zoom head in the normal 35mm zoom, it puts out f/10 at ten feet. That's decent power.

     Let's compare the power to some other popular flashes. Most popular flashes today have a power output of GN100-GN120 (GN30-GN36) The top of the line hotshoe flashes (canon/nikon/sony) have a practical power of 110-120 (they put out f/11 or f/12 @ ten feet) This is less than half a stop. Seriously. It's not a matter that these older flashes are super powerful, or that newer flashes are super weak, but that at standard zoom, there's only so much you can fit in a hotshoe flash, and they've known that for a while.

     Power-wise, the Vivitar 285 is similar to any other hotshoe flash you may be considering. Power is important, but it's not the end-all be-all. With power, it holds its own, but it lacks in the other departments.

Speed and life:
     This is where the Vivitar 285 fails for me. With NiCad batteries, (4 AAs) the flash recharges in 7 seconds from a full power fire, for about 100 shots. This 7 seconds quickly becomes 10 seconds (in my experience, after about 30-40% of battery use.) This is sloooowwwww. When using this flash, at 1/2 or 1/4 it's much better, but still unbearibly slow after a few minutes.

     With current flashes, even current cheaper flashes recharging at 2.5 seconds at full power, this was a big factor in me in looking elsewhere.

Slave and Sync:
     Another sore spot with these is their proprietary sync port. The workaround is easy, with optical slaves, and PC/3.5mm cables available for $10-$20, but that's more money for syncing that others have easier. Right out of box, you're limited to hotshoe sync, so on-camera, or a hotshoe radio trigger, like the RF602 or Cactus, or other various inexpensive triggers with a hotshoe mount.

Overall Opinion:
     The Vivitar 285 had its day in the limelight, but no longer. It is currently being sold new by Cactus for $90. For $90 I can get 2 YN460IIs... Two more powerful flashes, with faster recharge, and more fires per charge, with much more sync options, (two different optical triggers included.) 

     If you find one for $10 at a garage sale, or in an attic, or a friend gives you one... sure, get it, and have some fun using it. But new? The features just don't stack up to the pricetag. There are many better options out there.

Happy Shooting.


On September 4, 2013 at 11:41 PM , mahasiswa teladan said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)