I have owned a number of different flash
units. Some good, some not so good. When I started shooting
weddings for a studio (about 25 years ago), they required that I have a Vivitar 283 and a Quantum
1 Battery set-up. The reason was that the flash was very common and
quite good, and the battery was capable of lasting through a whole wedding
on one charge. I got both and still have them (25 years old and still
working like new!)
Here's what I can do with just one
Vivitar 283: Adding a couple more should be all good...
Vision for a Budget
The diagram below depicts the plan for a
reasonably complete small strobe system. It does not show the SunPak
522, soft box, light stands and umbrella brackets, but shows all the main
components for the system. It does not show duplicates.
Effectively, this configuration is repeated four times - once for each flash
unit, so that all options can be applied to all flash units.
Here is a breakdown of the actual
Quantum 1 Battery and Power Cord
In all the time I've had these units they
never let me down. I can't say that about some of the other flash
equipment so when I had to start thinking about flash again, I just dug out
my old Vivitar 283 and Quantum Battery. And that's when I learned that
the world had changed. First off, the combination produces too much
power to safely run on my Canon 5D Mark II without eventually frying it.
Secondly, the dedicated Canon flashes have a number of really cool features
that I'd really like to have. But at $400 per flash, and needing three
or four, I had to hold off until I generate some funds and have some jobs to
offset/justify the cost. Add to that the accessories (like new Quantum
Battery packs and cables) and it gets to be a couple thousand dollars.
Since I don't shoot that much with flash, it doesn't make a lot of sense to
go out and sink that kind of money unless I get REALLY busy shooting jobs
that requires it...
Having said that, it means continuing to
use my old gear for a little while longer. But first I had to protect
the camera from the trigger voltage of the flash. And I needed some
flexibility that suggested a few accessories.
Wein Safe Synch
I looked for and found the Wein Safe Synch.
Though pricey, I got it anyway. Comparing the cost of having the
camera damaged to the price of this unit, it's not a bad trade. Since
I plan to trigger my other flash units with optical or wireless slave
triggers, only one flash will be directly connected to the camera.
Additional Flash Units
The good thing about Vivitar 283's is
that they're a dime a dozen. So I went onto eBay and herded a few
together. In the process I selected those packages that had additional
parts that would be useful. I watched for Variable Angle Lens kits,
Varipower (VP-1) controllers to enable setting strobe power manually,
extension cables for the automatic sensor (for running the flash inside a
soft box and still using auto-exposure). I found a variety of things
and in the end tracked down three Varipower controllers, another flash, some
heavy duty synch cords, a lens kit, and a couple sensor extensions.
Here's a typical package - this one came with a heavy duty Paramount cord,
the sensor extension, and a lens kit - all for $11.00. Depending on
how you look at it, that's about $100 worth of gear.
Vivitar Remote Sensor Cable
This provides a way to separate the
automatic sensor from the flash so that the flash may still be operated in
automatic mode with placed inside a soft box or on a stand away from
Vivitar VariPower VP-1
With this unit, it's possible to dial the
power of the flash from full power down to 1/64 power. I have observed
that most people shooting interiors are using variable power strobes to
provide fill light in their shots. The only way to do this with the
283 is to use this unit. It's a good interim solution to a more
expensive flash and should be easy to resell later.
Vivitar Variable Angle Lens Kit and Vivitar Lens/Filter Adapter
The Variable Angle lens kit with adapter
enables the use of wide angle lenses and telephoto lenses with the 283 (the
flash attachment widens or narrows the flash beam).
The adapter also doubles as a holder for grids and snoots. The more
expensive strobes have this built in, and the dedicated Canon ones are even
automatic when you zoom your lens! For now this will cover me.
This one came as part of a package with a flash and cables.
StoFen Omni-Bounce Diffuser
The StoFen attachment gives a bare bulb
effect with a soft light. I have had good results with this attachment
shooting people so grabbed a couple more so I can use one on each unit if
Optical Slave Triggers
I had a SL-2 optical trigger and needed
another so decided to get a couple more. I found an auction listing
that had another 283, two SL-2 slave triggers, a colored filter kit and
adapter, and cords! $30 and shipping. Hard to beat that. I
had been looking at Wein triggers as well. This gives me three flash units that can
be tripped without wires. I have some synch cable splitters if I
need to run more near the camera. Here again, I am going with a
temporary solution - the wireless triggers (like the Pocket Wizards) can run
between $15 for the junk, to many hundreds of dollars for good ones.
Since I want good ones, I need to earn the money to buy them first...
I made a pair of long snoots so I can
direct the light on a small space if necessary. I had some honeycomb
construction material that I cut up and assembled for this purpose. I
got some adhesive Velcro to attach it to the flash. Judging from these
pictures I probably need to spray paint them black to make them look a
little less home-spun...
After reading about and seeing the effect
produced by grids, I decided to use the same approach as the snoot and make
a couple grids. These are made to fit inside the Vivitar adapter.
Here again, some paint and a cleaner retaining method will clean this up
Sunpak 522 with remote sensor attachment
The Sunpak is a huge unit that produces
lots of power and may be set to varying power settings out of the box.
I was able to get a StoFen diffuser (seen here lit up on the right).
But it needed a remote sensor. I got lucky and found one for a
reasonable price. Now if I could just find a replacement rechargeable
Photoflex LiteDome 293 with hardware
When I was shooting pictures for my die
cast columns I picked up this soft box. It's terrific and has been in
service for ten years. It's still like new and has always given me
good results. This is great when I need to widen and soften the light.
The strobe fits inside on a cold shoe. I have a long remote sensor
mount for the strobe inside this unit too.
Light Stand and Spare Tripods (2)
(can use cold shoes with 1/4-20 bases to hold flashes
Each unit needs a stand or clamp. I
have extra tripods that are good enough for holding a strobe and a few
clamps that have cold shoes on them for more "creative" use.
Manfrotto Umbrella Clamps (2)
The umbrella clamps attach the soft box
to the light stand and enable some adjustments for aiming the soft box.
The one I have has never failed - sometimes the good stuff is your best
This "bargain" exercise is quite a
contrast to the way I have outfitted myself with a top-end DSLR and premium
lenses. But the risk is that I won't shoot enough engagements that
require me to use strobes. So dropping a couple grand on the gear
right away would potentially be a waste of money. I have set myself up
on a budget with the following basic capability:
Four completely adjustable strobes that I
can control the light, trigger remotely, and run easily (remember, I've used
these units for almost 30 years).
The thinking is that I will generate some
revenue and save for the dedicated units and wireless triggers. In the
mean time, I might get lucky like I did with the camera and see technology
advance, making it possible that instead of Canon Speedlite 580EX II's I
might be getting the next generation product!