VIVITAR 283 - 285 HV - Part Two 


DISCLAIMER:Part two concerns bulletproofing the Vivitar for an inexpensive hard location flash unit.  A workhorse.  I'll cut to the chase, regardless of any work we do, we are not responsible for a failure in these units you stole off eBay.  If you get one, and you want the conversion, drop ship it to me, we'll test it, convert it, and we'll forward it to you, neat, saves time and freight but I DO NOT guarantee used gear from others.

Better that way. If it fails, better here than at a wedding. It will do so fairly rapidly. 90 % of the like new ones are OK. You'll have a great low cost fairly dependable light source. But we do not guarantee your strobe. Only our work.


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!  

I am the anti-Christ of AA anything. To me they are for kids toys. A waste of time and energy.  When a Wedding is a stake, SLA is the way to go.  NiMH or Lithium is a waste. 

The schematics and boards in the 283-285 were actually built with 70's theology and built for a different chemical standard, the slower Alkali standard, slower but more shots. I'm not an advocate of hyped-up over clocked strobes but 10-20 seconds between flashes is too much unless you are filming events like a Chess Match at an Outdoor Nudist Convention in Siberia or the giant Aldabra tortoise races on the Seychelles Islands where passing another Tortoise is really over the top. (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. Teddy bears don't run 10.4.s.


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 a very small black screw but enough to prevent modules accidentally falling out. We bulletproof it!

This is a solid change over, yet it can be converted back to batteries if needed with a spare unmodified clip. 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.  


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 ingrown type and tripping over itself. 


The first weak part, the foot; 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 idiots made the spring internally of a metal conducive to corrosion and that creates failures. Ever try to solder with a dirty tip? Similar exercise in frustration. If you are going to use this on a stand, get rid of this mess by one or two conversions I can do for you.   Here are my suggestions to bullet proof the Vivitar. We do about ten a week.

The simplest, smartest and cheapest conversion if you are using the metal foot (it has a PC terminal, see the picture) to get a PC on one end and a 1/8 jack on the other for your Pocket Wizard or other brand of trigger. Done.  They are available at our friends at  www.

The best version is the custom hotshoe model of the foot.
Actually I can use either as I gut it, I drill out the test button, the synch port, remove the hot part of the base and direct wire the synch cord into the circuitry. Clean, neat, no misfires and connects right into the Pocket wizard. Voila! One solid connection.

This cord has a male mono miniphone plug (1/8" – 3.5mm) on the other end which works on the PW but also connects with other brands like, CyberSync or Elinchrom Sky-port. It is a functional replacement for the similar cord that comes packed with a Pocket Wizard or CyberSync.  



The standard single pin hot-shoe. This is a normal hotshoe, as shown above.  It also means that on any strobe you now have to add a "hot connector". Like the Cowboy collection AKA "Ghetto Tranmitters".  That adds about an inch and another part with more contact surface or connections and wobble, you can gently alter the sides to eliminate the wobble, if you do not know what I am talking about, forget it. But if you have the kit already, so be it. 


Plan B: If  you are getting closer to total confidence in your system and eliminate the bugaboos of the Vivitar. I can convert a hotshoe only, safety it by making it inert and direct solder hot wiring a cable from the side of the foot eliminating all the BS to a Pocket Wiz 3.5mm connector.


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

Today the 285HV strobe is just another product out of China. 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 which allows the flexibility and double the power from a single black box.

See Current Pricing Here for Vivitar Upgrades.


Most new photographers are what I call a linked buyer. It's called brandsmanship. You own a Nikon, you use a Nikon flash; Canon, you use a Canon flash. You buy the hat, the bag that says steal me, and join the forums.  

Then you shoot a wedding and oops something fails and you are dead. No backup. You are now branded as a fool.  Consider this for a second; the 283/285's are simple units. Their job is to make light. If you know how to use light you are a genius, if you know nothing about light, you are a fool with a expensive camera. Hmmm sounds like a double fool to me.  Thats just hard core photography. Learn about light, the definition: Photography is the study of light.