The Vivitar 285HV is better than the old 283, right?

If you read my last post, you know I'm in the midst of a "Mission to banish AA's." Experimentation is ongoing, and results will be reported in a day or two. I've already gotten a result that surprised me with the AA Alkalines that is causing me to reconsider my testing method.

In the meantime, a question that might rightly enter the mind of a reader would be, "Why do you use the old Vivitar 283 and not the 285HV, which is readily available new?"

This is a question I have been asked more than once while on assignment. Simplest answer is that 283's are what I have. They last nearly forever, and when they die, more lie in wait on eBay and in used departments of your better camera shops, both brick-and-mortar and online. I think I've owned at least two of them ever since my sophomore year of college. At one point, I had seven of them in perfect working order. These days I have four that work flawlessly, one that works "well enough", and three on the autopsy table for spare parts.

The 285HV is a very good flash. Always has been. I've owned several over the years, but only have one right now. The venerable Strobist has recommended it highly, and I agree. It has the distinct advantage of being a currently (or at least very recently) in-production flash unit, so I assume there is a warranty on new units, and repair and replacement is easier without resorting to eBay.

Another very important advantage to the 285HV is that it has a much safer sync voltage right out of the box. Very important note here: Only the newer 285HV models have the lower sync voltage. Older 285 (non-HV) models you may find on the used market most likely have sync voltage in the 300V range and can and probably will send your 40D or D40 to an early grave, or at least in for an expensive repair.

Two other significant advantages to the 285HV are the zoom head and the variable manual power settings. I will discuss both and indicate why, for me, the 283 is still the better option.

Zoom head: A three position zoom head on the 285HV adjusts the beam angle to cover 35mm, 50mm, and 105mm lenses (based on full-frame SLR viewing angle). This is pretty handy. The 105mm (Tele) setting gives you extra reach for subjects viewed with long lenses at a distance, which is sometimes a necessity. The 50mm (Norm) setting is good for efficient bouncing from the ceiling or from an umbrella. The 35mm (Wide) setting is gives good coverage for general use and prevents vignetting. This setting closely mimics what you get with the 283 with no modifier.

To get the same functionality from a 283, you need the lens kit LK-1 and the Lens Filter Adapter, which holds the LK-1 lenses. Extra accessories are extra dollars, although both are readily found on eBay for about 10 dollars each, sometimes less. The advantage is that the Lens Kit has the ability to vary the angle of coverage to a far greater degree, from 20mm to 135mm. If I need wide coverage, I'm probably bouncing from the ceiling or from an umbrella, but I often use the 85mm or 135mm lenses to increase the reach of a unit placed on a stand in the back of a room or to concentrate the light and allow surrounding areas to go dark (useful for lighting up a speaker in a dark room while still allowing his/her PowerPoint slides to remain visible in the image).

The added flexibility overrides the disadvantage of having to buy and carry extra accessories, in my view.

Variable power: You know, it's nice that the 285HV, unlike the 283, has variable power built-in, but it has LAME variable power built-in. You get 1/2, 1/4 and 1/16. Dat's it. Hummingbird shooters or others interested in extremely short flash duration probably want to tune it down lower than 1/16. Maybe LOT'S lower. And how did 1/8 power get thrown under the bus, anyway?

Again, the 283 is proves to be more flexible, but also at the expense of another accessory. The Vari-power module VP-1 (find it cheap on eBay) allows continuous adjustment of power from Full to 1/64 power. The downside is that, frankly, this is a rather poorly designed accessory. While useful, it has no clickstops or other capability to "lock-in" a power setting. It's just a dial that rotates freely and can easily get pushed higher or lower if the flash is hand-held (not so much an issue for lightstand use). Also, in my tests with several different 283's, you don't actually get 1/2 power at the 1/2 power setting. You need to go down near to 1/4 power to reduce the power by half. So watch your image preview/histogram or use a flash meter to test power settings, and don't assume that adjusting from 1/4 power to 1/8 power is a one f/stop adjustment.

Brave 283 hackers can use various Radio Shack potentiometers or resistors to gain control over the power setting as well. That's fodder for another post.

On thing I dislike about the 285HV: I don't use the color coded auto modes very much, but sometimes they are the handiest way to easily and automatically fill in the foreground of a multiple light set-up. The 285HV gives you 4 modes to choose from. At ISO 400, the corresponding apertures for these modes are 4.0 (yellow), 8.0 (red), 16 (blue) and 22 (purple). Blue and Purple are pretty much useless if your working distance exceeds about 4 feet, so that leaves Red and Yellow. Yellow requires f/4.0, which is just a bit too wide for my taste. 5.6 gives me just a bit of extra depth of field and is more comfortable for me. My next option with the 285HV is red mode, which calls for f/8.0. That's not bad, but the red mode consistently overexposes with my unit, so it's more like f/11. That's a 3 f/stop jump and dumps a LOT more flash power, leading to longer recycle times and more dead batteries.

Behavior of my five 283's is consistent across the board, but I have no way to be sure if my sole 285HV is normal or "special."

The 283's bottom two modes are f/4.0 (yellow) and f/5.6 (red), and are both consistent with their respective apertures in exposure. This is my personal preference, but "red mode" on the 283 is a better fit for the way I work than any mode on the 285HV.


Mission to banish AA's, part I

I truly HATE AA batteries.

I frikkin' hate them with a PASSION.

The treehugger in me hates them because I have to collect them in a milk jug and unload them for proper disposal at a special recycling event that only happens twice a month in these parts.

I hate them because they cost money. And any and all cost savings are vital in this economy.

And most importantly, as a professional photographer, I hate them because the performance sucks. I get approximately 30 to 40 good flashes with decent but far-from-stellar recycle times before the flash unit begins to slow to an annoying degree. I hang with a set of batteries for 20 or 30 more flashes to get my money's worth or until recycle times begin to put me in serious danger of missing a "money" shot. Then I break out another 3 dollars worth of batteries, fumble with an awkward exchange, and start all over.

The Quantum 1 battery is an obvious solution. Quality flash performance for about 120 to 170 flashes (or perhaps MANY more, depending on how you flash) and then take it home and recharge practically for free. But there's that awkward cable going down to your belt. It gets pinched in my rotating flash bracket. It ends up caught on the petals of my lens shade and is visible in the picture. It beats AA's, but still has it's annoyances.

In a "There's got to be a better way" Google search, I turned up a pre-wrapped, pre-wired five-AA NiMH cluster intended for radio control model airplane servos. I found a pair of such packs rated at 6V and 2300mAh on eBay for about $15 including shipping. Even if this works well, there will still be days I need to use the Quantum 1 for extended shooting without fussing with battery swaps, but I thought these units would be worth a try for shorter, lighter assignments.

A little research in RC model forums confirms my assumption that the five cells in this cluster are 1.2 volts each to make up the 6V usually found in a set of four 1.5V AA's. Obviously this cluster will not fit in the usual battery compartment on my Vivitar 283's but a Quantum style "battery replacer" module can't be hard to whip together.

I'm going out on a limb a bit by posting a blog entry on this experiment which, for all I know, will be an abject failure. But hey, the failures teach us too, right? This will be the first of at least two and possibly three posts on the subject. My immediate challenge now will be to find a way to charge the packs and adapt them for use in the Vivitar 283 (should be easy enough) and to test the performance. If that goes well, I will document a mod I'm planning to the 283 that will allow quick and easy transition from powering the flash with this battery pack to powering it with the Quantum 1.

I may then follow with a couple of related posts on topics like "Why the 283 and not the 285, which is readily available new?" and "OK. You've convinced me to go with the 283. How do I keep it from destroying my digital camera?"

Stay tuned.


Battle of the Lightweights

Let me put one thing out right in front. I could not care less about beauty pageants. I was briefly interested earlier this year when a student at the local University of Indianapolis, who by all accounts is a fine young lady, was named Miss America, but I moved on to other things pretty quickly.

In spite of my professed apathy, I could not help but be fascinated, in a gory-car-wreck sort of way, by the controversy surrounding Miss California USA and Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean. What's strangely fascinating about this is how it caused a number of political and social lightweights to flex their meager head-shake and chuckle inducing muscle.

In one phase of the Miss USA pageant, Prejean was asked about same-sex marriage by "celebrity blogger" (now there's a job description we didn't need) and lightweight #1 in this saga, Perez Hilton.

Let me say now I could have happily gone to my grave having never heard of Perez Hilton.

Hilton, who is gay, loudly blogged about Prejean's opposition to same-sex marriage rights. I tend to disagree with Prejean, but she has every right to her views. But shrill denunciation like Hilton's only drives me to be more supportive of her right to expression.

Lightweight #2 is Prejean herself. (Sorry to pile this on after your runner-up finish in Miss USA, Carrie, but your not even the #1 lightweight in your own story.) Prejean, could have just ignored Hilton, but instead went out of her way to stake out for herself an acre of moral high ground on the gay marriage issue. That all but assured that anything risque or embarrassing in her past would almost certainly come to light, which brings us to . . .

Lightweight #3: Nik Ritchie. He is the proprietor of the aptly named blog thedirty.com. Ritchie's forte seems to be publishing amateurish photos of scantily-clad women and then engaging readers in deep, philosophical gender-related questions along the lines of, "Ya think those are real?" and "Would you do'er?" Nik did us the "public service" of publishing at least two topless photos from a fashion shoot done when Prejean was 17 years old. I checked them out. She's hot. There's a teasing glimpse of the side of a breast, but this is nowhere near porn.

Ritchie recently tried to boost his journalistic cred by openly defying a cease and desist order demanding he remove Prejean's photos from his site. Sorry, Nik, but these aren't the Pentagon Papers. You're still a lightweight.

I was so fascinated by this story that I forgot to check last Monday if Prejean had actually lost her crown over the photos. The final authority on the matter was Donald Trump, and the Donald has decreed Prejean shall not lose her crown, which I think is probably as it should be. On one hand, if she had ever looked down the business end of a Nikon with no bra on, and she clearly has, she was lying by not disclosing this to pageant officials as contractually required. On the other hand, the photos are pretty tame in my view, with no fully-visible "naughty parts" and a cutesy "girl next door" pose and expression.

The Donald is no lightweight. In fact, there's more gravitas in his ample toupee than in the total combined body mass of the other three people mentioned thus far. And I believe he was smart not to dethrone Prejean and thereby grant her instant martyr status among right wing conservatives. Quite simply, the story goes away faster if she stays right where she is, and the last thing we need right now is a junior Ann Coulter.

Sarah Palin briefly vied for the spot of Lightweight #4 by pouring her derision on "the liberal onslaught of malicious attacks" against Prejean for her views. She went on to congratulate the Donald for letting Prejean stay on as Miss California USA and for standing up for her first amendment rights. Palin and the rest of the far right must learn to accept that mere disagreement with their platform does not constitute an "onslaught." Palin also failed to cite any actual abridgment of Prejean's constitutional rights. The First amendment guarantees free speech. It does not guarantee the right to be heard, agreed with, or liked.

No, Sarah, I've award the Lightweight #4 slot to Shanna Moakler, co-director of Miss California USA, who resigned in protest of Prejean keeping her crown. Moakler wisely seems to have stayed clear of the semi-nude photo debate. She is a former Miss USA and went on to be a Playboy centerfold, which I guarantee you was a lot more than "semi-nude." Moakler aspires to make a bold statement on gay marriage rights by walking away from the pageant which allows a person holding contrary views on the subject to keep her crown.

I feel certain this "statement" was already drowned out by the several states which have recently legalized same-sex marriage to one extent or another. I presume Moakler will now return to her sizzling acting career, which numbers 20 movie and TV guest roles in the last 13 years. Good Luck, sweetheart.